Calif. Teacher Resigns After Family Says She Made Racist Comments on Zoom: 'It's Just So Hurtful'
A California teacher who allegedly made racist comments about a student and his family has resigned, and her school district is facing a potential lawsuit after the remarks were caught on a Zoom video she was apparently unaware was still recording.
Katura Stokes' sixth-grade son was struggling with remote learning, so the mother arranged for a Zoom call with his science teacher at Desert Willow Fine Arts, Science and Technology Magnet Academy on Jan. 20, according to a claim filed Thursday against the Palmdale School District that was obtained by PEOPLE.
The boy and his teacher, Kimberly Newman, completed several assignments together — but once the call was over, she kept talking for more than 30 minutes, seemingly unaware that Stokes could still hear her, the claim alleges.
"She drafted and sent an email to [Stokes' son's] fellow teachers (and administrators), in which she repeatedly mocked and denigrated Ms. Stokes," the claim says, adding that Stokes recorded the Zoom screen.
"She then says to her husband, 'The family is a piece of s—, they are Black, they are Black.' She goes on to say that [the student] has learned to lie to everyone and make excuses and that "This is what Black people do.' The video is littered with racist remarks about [the student] and Ms. Stokes," the claim continues.
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Newman, who was unable to be reached for comment by PEOPLE, also insulted Stokes' parenting, reportedly saying in the recording, which was obtained by the Washington Post: "She's answered her phone for the first time this entire year. I mean these parents, that's what kind of piece of s— they are."
Newman eventually left the Zoom call after an employee who'd been alerted by Stokes called Newman and asked if she'd made racist comments. She denied having done so, according to the claim.
The incident was reported to school officials and Newman was promptly suspended, then resigned shortly after, Palmdale School District spokesman David Garcia told the Post.
"We do not stomach racist behavior at the Palmdale School District, whether you are caught on video or not," he said, adding that the district was unable to open an investigation due to Newman's lack of cooperation.
Garcia told the Los Angeles Times that the district has "no room for racial comments or discrimination," and that school officials are "on the same side" as Stokes.
The district alerted the community to the incident in an early February press release obtained by PEOPLE that mentions "an incident regarding unprofessional, racist comments apparently recorded after a parent-teacher Zoom tele-conference." The release did not identify Newman or mention her subsequent resignation.
In the months since, Stokes' claim alleges that she and her son have been "permanently scarred" as a result of Newman's comments.
"They are so disappointed and in disbelief over the fact that this is still happening in this day and age. Ms. Stokes was asking for help and in response, she gets a racist rant and unbeknown to her, her son is listening to a lot of it," family attorney Neil K. Gehlawat, who did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment, told the outlet. "There's this teacher that he looked up to saying these awful things. It's just so hurtful and difficult for him to process."
The family is also asking for improved racial sensitivity training among employees in a district where enrollment is 75 percent Latino, 15 percent Black and 10 percent white and other races, the Times reported.
"They need to look into whether other students under this teacher were getting a fair shake," Gehlawat told the outlet. "Other Black parents must wonder, 'Are they saying the same things about my kid behind our backs?'"
The district reportedly has 45 days to file a formal response to Stokes' claim — which is seeking monetary damages for negligence, defamation and civil rights violations — and after that, the family has six months to file a lawsuit.