The Saugerties Central School District’s Board of Education last week hired an attorney to investigate a complaint regarding a controversial assignment in a high school English class.
Last month, a journaling assignment in a Saugerties High School English class taught by Hope Antonelli sparked a student complaint and caused a local uproar that attracted the attention of national media for mentioning the murder of George Floyd and the trial of officer Derek Chauvin, both in terms that, in the context of providing an example of a bold topic for students to offer arguments for and against, asserted arguments that the officer was not solely responsible for Floyd’s death and that the verdict may have been compromised by a juror’s activist past.
Antonelli has since been reassigned by the district.
Albany Attorney Anthony J. Brock was hired during a virtual meeting of the School Board held on Tuesday, May 25, one year after the murder of Floyd, which quickly becoming a flashpoint for global protests, including a march of hundreds through Saugerties on June 12, 2020.
Brock, who specializes in labor and employment law, education law and defense litigation, will earn $180 per hour to “conduct an investigation…in all matters…relating to a complaint concerning teacher misconduct.”
On Friday, May 28, Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt said there was no anticipated timeline for the investigation.
“Trust the process,” Reinhardt said. “When something is brought to our attention, the administration is going to do due process.”
In a letter to the community posted to the district website on Tuesday, May 11, Reinhardt said that the assignment “was interpreted by at least one student to include biased content.”
The assignment instructions asked students to “(c)reate a bold topic/thematic sentence, Justify your claim key pieces of evidence, and also address the alternate claim.”
Two examples were given:
“George Floyd did not die because Chauvin’s knee was on his neck. He died from a heart attack and drug overdose. However, because Chauvin used excessive force and failed to render aid, he was convicted on all three counts by a jury of his peers. (Arrest was over a counterfeit $20 bill)”
“Brandon Mitchell was a juror in the trial. He was asked if he had any racially provoked negativity against police officers, would any of these incidents sway his judgment. He was specifically asked asked (sic) if he was involved in BLM and if he protested in any form against the officers involved in the George Floyd case. He answered no to both. New evidence has surfaced that he could not have been forthcoming in his statements. Should the Derek Chauvin case be retried because of Brandon Mitchell? Why or Why Not?”
Reinhardt said earlier this month that the district received “well over 50 or 60 e-mails from parents” about the issue.
Last week, Reinhardt said the district will strive to put their own critical thinking into future critical thinking assignments.
“What I’m hoping is it’ll always lead us to conversations on all of our assignments to make sure we’re giving that opportunity for students to critically think, to challenge our students,” he said. “But we always want to make sure that in the back of our mind is, you know, what’s best for our students socially, emotionally as well as academically.”