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HCSD clears teacher in controversy

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On September 2, 2020, a photo of a presentation slide containing a quote regarding “Black Lives Matter” surfaced from a Hernando High School U.S. Government classroom, sparking a School Board investigation based on the concern that Dr. Christina Torres-Velazquez was sharing her personal political views and beliefs to students. Torres-Velazquez has been cleared of the allegations by the school district.

The controversial slide contained quotes pertaining to the Black Lives Matter movement that were not written by Torres-Velazquez but quoted from S.D. Krider from a publication called The Columbus Dispatch. Torres-Velazquez was advised to provide proper citations in presentations going forward.

The slide also contained an instruction to the students; “Analyze the quote and write your opinion using at least three complete sentences.  Then relate it to the Declaration of Independence.”

In a written statement submitted as part of the investigation findings, Principal Leechele Booker wrote that on September 2, 2020, she received a phone call from Superintendent John Stratton that “someone was concerned about a slide that was displayed in the classroom.”

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On September 3, Booker met with Torres-Velazquez, and Nancy Jacobs, a Teachers Union Representative. On this date, she requested lesson plans and clarification on the origin of the quote. Torres-Velazquez turned in all the requested items at the end of the day.

The following day Booker collected statements from Assistant Principal Daniel O’Rourke, who was present for the beginning of class that day, as well as another teacher identified as Linda Coco.  Additionally,  11 students submitted written statements. Also reviewed were Dr. Torres-Velazquez’s lesson plan and slide containing the quote and its source.

Following review, Booker found that the allegations that Dr. Torres-Velazquez was sharing her own political views were unfounded because:

  •  “Two other adults were in the room on two separate occasions and did not witness that, they saw the quote was used as a hook to discuss the Constitution, current events and for students to discuss their views.”
  • “The class is a US Government class, her planned discussion and plan fit with the standards she identified and was trying to address”
  •  “There was a direct source for this quote, it came from Stanley Krider with the Columbus Dispatch, so this was not something that the teacher created and it was not her sharing her viewpoint”
  •  “10 of the 11 students did not share any concerns or suggest that the teacherwas espousing her views.”

Of the eleven students, one student answered the question: “Can you tell what happened in your government class?”  with, “I walked into Mrs. Torres class and she had stated on the board that when in the declaration of independence say all men were created equal does not pertain to blacks???  When clearly in the doc it states all men were created equal & endowed by their inalienable rights”

The student answered the second and final question, “How would you summarize the lesson that your teacher taught Tuesday?” with “A very indoctrinizing lesson teaching her political viewpoint.”

Booker took this submission into deeper consideration and personally interviewed the student.  After being asked if he would like to switch classes, he declined and added that he did not know what “indoctrination” actually meant. The student told Booker he read the term on Facebook.

The ten other students, based on their statements, understood that the instructions written on the whiteboard were to analyze the quote and write their own opinion using at least three complete sentences, and then relate it to the Declaration of Independence.


Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil is a reporter for the Hernando Sun as well as a business technology developer, specializing in website development, content management systems, and data analysis.
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