Monday, May 27, 2013
Bronx: A black Spanish teacher claims that she was fired after teaching the word for the color black - "negro" - and a student misinterpreted her lesson as a racial slur
Petrona Smith, 65, was a non-tenured teacher at the bilingual school PS 211 until March 2012, when she was fired after a student complained of being called "negro" and "a failure." But Smith, who is black and a native of the West Indies, said that the student misunderstood her meaning: she was using the word "negro," the word for the color black in Spanish, not an outmoded reference to an person of African descent. “They haven’t even accounted for how absurd it is for someone who’s black to be using a racial slur to a student,” Shaun Reid, Smith’s attorney, said. “Talk about context! There’s a lot of things wrong here.” In court papers, Smith said that she was teaching students how to say different colors, and even explained that the a black person in Spanish is called "moreno," not "negro." She also said that she asked students who had failed a test to move to the back of the class, but had never called them failures. Smith detailed the abuse that she claims she often suffered at the hands of her students, who, according to her claims filed in court, called her "f***ing monkey," "cockroach" and "n****r." Smith said that she had always risen above their insults. The investigation leading to her termination relied on the word of four 7th-grade students, even though one of the student's parents admitted he had lied. Smith, who has been unable to to find work since she was fired, has sued for wrongful termination.