Originally posted at 4:32 p.m. May 7, 2014. Edited to correct a figure, add a link.
By Penny Arévalo | Patch Editor
MISSION VIEJO, Calif. — A teacher at Oxford Preparatory Academy has been placed on leave while school administrators investigate whether she made racist gestures to the only African-American student in the class – including having a noose hung around his neck.
While the investigation is ongoing, a representative from the Mission Viejo-based charter school, Erika Schulte, said the teacher was put on administrative leave within 24 hours of the parent’s notification.
and the boy’s mom, who gave an interview to Patch, have different
accounts of what happened.
In the radio interview on KFI, Schulte characterized the incident as a one-time misunderstanding that was addressed quickly. The mother said it was one of several instances of potentially racist behavior, and that two initial conversations with the principal went nowhere.
The incident in question – or "the straw that broke the camel’s back," as the mother writes in an email to OPA and Capistrano Unified officials – took place on a recent field trip to Riley’s Farm, a working farm in Yucaipa that recreates historical events from the Civil War.
The mother said teacher Renee Schultz volunteered her son for a demonstration on a hanging. He walked to the front of the group while a docent put a noose around his neck to show what a hanging looks like.
OPA's Schulte told talk-show hosts on KFI Wednesday that the boy was not the only student to demonstrate the noose. By the end of the conversation, the hosts said they expected the teacher's reinstatement shortly.
However, the Oxford mom said that's not exactly how it went.
"My child was the only child in his classroom who did not volunteer but was called up."
She also believes putting a noose around her son is different.
"I don’t care that the other students did it. None of them are African-American. Their culture has not been victimized and traumatized … That’s disgusting," she said.
Oxford Prep's attorney, Keith Fink, believes the mom is aiming for a payday by trumping up the accusations. The school already has received a letter from the mom's attorney.
"The story is an outright fabrication of the mother and gross exaggeration and a race card play," Fink said.
OPA's Schulte also told KFI the teachers did not know exactly what the demonstration was going to be.
But the OPA student’s mom finds that hard to believe, especially because Schultz grabbed the boy by the arm earlier in the day and pointed at the noose, promising "we'll deal with you at that later."
The mom also described two other incidents throughout the school year – her son’s first at the charter school – that could be read as racist.
In the first, the students were taking a class picture, the mom said. Schultz announced to the class that her son would not be visible in the photo because "he's as black as the wall."
In the second instance, Schultz pointed at a short, heavyset black man with hair and said that must be her son's father.
But Schultz has a second job at a gym where the boy’s father also works. She knows the dad – a 6-foot-3, thin and bald man, the mom said.
The mom said she wasn't aware of any of these instances until her son didn't want to go to school last week, and she was able to pry out of him what happened at Riley's Farm. Her two sons and other parents helped piece together the other incidents.
Parents thought the mom was already aware, she said.
"My son was a good student, a good soul, won the kindness award," she said. "He didn't even want to get Ms. Schultz into any kind of trouble."
Troubled by the experience, she contacted her pastor who lead her to OC Human Relations, which works to combat racism.
Together, they met with Principal Kyle Schuler, who seemed very indifferent to her son’s needs, the mom said. Schuler said he would investigate, but until then, he would back the teacher.
The worst part was that Schuler didn’t even ask her son how the incident made him feel, the mom said. So OC Human Relations CEO Rusty Kennedy asked him.
"'That incident made me feel worthless and that I do not matter,'" the mom relayed. "’The reason I didn't say anything because I didn’t think anyone cares.'"
The mother said Schuler's response proved her son right.
The next morning, the mother returned with the boy's father to again address the matter with Schuler. They got nowhere.
"I’m going to be backing my teacher," the mom said she was told.
That’s when she wrote a letter to the Capistrano Unified school board. Oxford is a charter of CUSD, but trustees do not have direct governance over the school.
Still, Superintendent Joseph Farley got back to the mom right away, and she credits his involvement with moving things along.
Shortly after, OPA Executive Director Sue Roche assured the mom that Schultz was put on leave.
Fink said the administration did everything right in this case. Roche has offered to pay for counseling and even if the teacher is cleared, she would not teach the boy.
Despite the teacher's leave of absence, her son has not gone back to school, the mom said. As of now, he's doing independent study.
She finds the situation even more disturbing than the highly publicized audiotape of Clippers owner Donald Sterling that has stirred up so much nationwide controversy, she said.
"It's disgusting, it's not an isolated incident," the mother said. "She should never teach anybody’s child."