LAUSD teacher placed on leave after profanity-laden outburst is recorded by student
An audio clip of a high school English teacher repeatedly dropping the F-bomb during a classroom outburst has gone viral on the campus of Narbonne High in Harbor City.
In the clip, which was recorded by a student on Sept. 26, the teacher yells “I know my f–ing s–t. Don’t f— with that. I’m tired of trying to educate you, and you guys resist every step of the f—ing way. Get the f— out of here.” (Listen to the audio clip).
The outburst occurred in the classroom of a fledgling new school for performing arts that is located on the campus of Narbonne High. Called Humanities and Art Academy — or HArts Academy for short — the school officially broke away from the comprehensive high school this fall.
Although students at Narbonne and HArts know the teacher’s name, the Daily Breeze has decided not to publish it, believing that wide dissemination would cause years of damage to her reputation, far outweighing her transgression. The teacher has been placed on paid leave while Los Angeles Unified School District administrators investigate.
Reached at home, the teacher said she is deeply sorry.
“You know, I had a weak moment,” she said. “Forgive me.”
The teacher added that the clip was recorded by a student who had been heckling her in front of the 12th-grade class. That student then allegedly brought the recording to a Narbonne High faculty member with whom the teacher has had an adversarial relationship. The HArts Academy teacher contends the Narbonne teacher began disseminating the recording to others on campus.
“This girl took my moment of weakness and used it against me,” the teacher said of the student. “And then the teacher (at Narbonne) egged (the student) on to send it to her, and then they disseminated it. It’s just cruel.”
The episode is the latest example of how students using their cellphones to take pictures or recordings of what is happening in the classroom can have a profound effect on campus. It also raises questions about what constitutes inappropriate behavior on the part of a teacher in the classroom.
Several weeks ago, a teacher was placed on leave at Da Vinci Science charter school in Hawthorne after a student snapped a photo of a test question that took a jab at crosstown rival Hawthorne High.
Said the prompt: “Little known fact: the early years at Jamestown were characterized by violence, a lack of knowledge and the presence of many women of questionable moral character. A little like modern-day Hawthorne High School.”
The prompt was photographed by a student at Da Vinci, who emailed it to a friend at Hawthorne High, who in turn posted it on Instagram. The photo eventually made its way to officials at the Centinela Valley Union High School District.
Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at Cal State Dominguez Hills, said the incidents are a reminder to teachers — and, really, to everyone — that these days, every human interaction has potential to be public.
“Technology has led us into a conundrum,” said Rosen, a leading scholar on technology devices and their effect on the human psyche. “On the one hand, you get to know everything, everywhere, anytime you want. But the price you pay is your privacy.”
Rosen said he bears this in mind when delivering his lectures, though he says has hasn’t allowed the presence of mobile devices to alter the way he teaches.
“I still swear in class,” he said with a laugh. “But I knew that if I didn’t tame my language, somebody could have complained about me long ago. But I think (swearing) can provide a hook for some students to remember material.”
Of course, college and high school are different environments, and their standards for what constitutes acceptable behavior by teachers differ accordingly.
LAUSD’s code of ethics includes a dozen behaviors for teachers to avoid. Among them:
“Engaging in any behaviors, either directly or indirectly with a student(s) or in the presence of a student(s), that are unprofessional, unethical, illegal, immoral, or exploitative.”
Ellen Morgan, a spokesperson for LAUSD, said that, generally speaking, a violation of the code will trigger an investigation.
“At the outcome of the investigation, he/she will meet with the individual and conference, reprimand, discipline and/or move to recommend dismissal,” Morgan said in an email.
She added that, in situations similar to the one in question — provided no other information surfaces to contradict the action — the employee will often be issued a “notice of unsatisfactory act” for the behavior.
The HArts Academy teacher did point out that the girl who recorded the outburst broke school rules just by having her cellphone on in class. Indeed, LAUSD policy prohibits the use of cellphones during class time.
In any case, the teacher was leading a classroom discussion about race and ethnicity when the confrontation erupted. The teacher said she was trying to make the point that the term “African-American” is, in some respects, a misnomer.
“You’re an American first,” she said, adding that her forebears were Italian, and she doesn’t refer to herself as Italian-American.
The teacher — who worked at Narbonne for many years before switching over to the new school — said the girl repeatedly told her that she was wrong. “I was trying to explain the difference between race and ethnicity, and this girl kept poking the bear,” she said.
“I’ve always felt safe with my students,” said the teacher, who attended Narbonne herself. “That’s why it hurts so much that someone would do this.”
The teacher said she was feeling burdened by two major stressors that day. First, she was in physical pain, and soon after had an appendectomy. Also, HArts has been locked in a bitter fight with Narbonne High over 90-plus students who are reportedly being kept from switching from Narbonne to the new school. The dispute has forced the new school — which enrolls 385 students — to shed four of its 16 teachers. Meanwhile, Narbonne has added three teachers to its roster.
The resulting tension has had the effect of pitting some teachers against each other on the same campus. The teacher in question said she believes this atmosphere of distrust added incentive for teachers at Narbonne to pass the sound clip around.
“These are people who used to be my friends,” she said.