South Burlington School Board member criticizes district’s handling of racist comment in classroom

Local News

A South Burlington High School teacher was disciplined earlier this year for joking about hanging someone with a noose from the school’s Black Lives Matter flag.

The comments were reported in March by the son of Dr. Travia Childs, a South Burlington School Board member who criticized administrators for allowing the teacher to return to the classroom.

Dr. Childs shared details of the incident Thursday in a lengthy Facebook post. According to her account, her son, Jeremiah, was in class when another student reportedly said that a circular object being made by a 3D printer looked like a noose.

Dr. Childs wrote that the teacher, whom she identified as Stephen Barner, laughed and mentioned hanging someone with a noose from the Black Lives Matter flag outside the school.

An investigation by school officials found that the teacher — whose identity they were unable to confirm Thursday — was placed on leave and had committed a “substantial violation” of the school’s policy prohibiting bullying, hazing and harassment. Meanwhile, the teacher submitted paperwork indicating he would retire at the end of June.

In a statement issued Thursday, South Burlington School Superintendent David Young acknowledged “racially insensitive” remarks by the student, as well as the comment about hanging a noose from the flag. However, the statement did not mention the comment about a person being hanged.

Young wrote that the teacher, who has retired, admitted to making the remark, apologized and expressed willingness to accept whatever punishment was appropriate.

Young continued: “After consultation with the high school principal and with his support, I issued significant consequences that cannot be disclosed for privacy reasons, and after complying with those consequences, the teacher returned to the classroom.”

On Facebook, Dr. Childs alleged that fear of a lawsuit by the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association — the union representing South Burlington teachers in the workplace — discouraged the district from firing the teacher. Young’s statement did not address this allegation.

Dr. Childs added: “The South Burlington School District Administrator failed to protect my son. He would talk about this issue daily, and I cried because I felt helpless because of my new position.”

School Board Chair Bridget Burkhardt, who was quoted in Young’s statement, said in a phone interview that officials are “horrified by this behavior. This is obviously not behavior that we would ever want in the district, and we are taking it extremely seriously.”

Burkhardt said the board — with no involvement from Dr. Childs — hired a consultant to review how administrators handled the incident. However, on the day in July that the consultant was scheduled to deliver her findings, she withdrew from the job instead.

“We were instead sent a letter by the (school district’s) attorneys saying that this person felt she had a conflict of interest because she knew too many of the parties involved, and that her lawyers had said she should not continue the work,” Burkhardt said.

The board is looking for another third party to conduct the review.

Dr. Childs could not be reached for comment Thursday. In her Facebook post, she said her son, who was forced to switch classes, remains traumatized by the incident.

“Although Administrators will come and go, nothing can erase the pain. Jeremiah hated being in South Burlington, and as soon as he graduated, he left. His attitude had changed, and I pray that he can begin healing after leaving South Burlington.”

Likewise, Young did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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