A 70-year-old substitute teacher was suspended after telling a Brooklyn classroom of mostly Chinese-American fifth-graders that their parents left China because it's a communist country and that COVID-19 was created in a Chinese lab, the New York Daily News reported.
What are the details?
Peshe Schiller was filling in Thursday for an absent teacher in the gifted and talented class at P.S. 204 in Bensonhurst, the paper said, adding that a parent said 24 of the 27 students in the class are Chinese-Americans.
Schiller and the fifth-graders began discussing vaccines and COVID-19, the Daily News said, adding that parents said she declared that the virus was created in a lab.
But she noted to the paper that "we were talking about how vaccines were developed and why, and this kid out of nowhere said, 'the virus was produced by animals.' I said everyone has their own opinion but I heard on the news that it was developed in a laboratory."
Students also claimed Schiller said all Chinese people are communists, people who visit the country end up dead, and China has no religious freedom, the Daily News said.
"Today we had a racist teacher," one student wrote in classroom notes that the paper reviewed. "She said Covid-19 was made in a lab by China. She also said China had no freedom of religion. Not true obviously."
But Schiller told the Daily News she described China as "a communist country, and they don't have freedom" and that their parents left the country because "they wanted you to have freedom" and "that's why you're here."
"Maybe they were upset that I said China is a communist country, they took offense to that," she added to the paper. "But it is."
Parents are angry
Parents are outraged, saying Schiller's alleged comments were insensitive and inappropriate for elementary school kids, the Daily News said.
"It's outrageous to bring anything political like this forward to a group of 10-year-olds," one parent who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the paper.
"Why would ... a teacher talk to a bunch of 10-year-olds like that?" another parent wondered, according to the Daily News. "I feel like this is more than racist; it's more like bullying."
One parent said, "I asked myself, 'Why would she say that?' Is it because the majority of the class is Asian?" the paper reported.
Schiller denied to the Daily News she said anything racist, adding that the accusing students may have made things up because Schiller reprimanded them for using a bathroom on the wrong floor.
Now, after teaching for 37 years, Schiller is barred from her job while the New York City Department of Education's Office of Equal Opportunity investigates, the paper said.
One parent also said several students reported that Schiller described Filipinos as dirty and that she pulled down her mask to describe her dislike of Mayor Bill de Blasio's vaccine mandate, the Daily News said.
But Schiller denied to the paper that she made any comments about Filipinos and said that she got vaccinated before the DOE's mandate.
What did school district officials have to say?
Parents said an aide overheard students talking about Schiller during lunch and that administrators pulled her from the classroom and sent a guidance counselor to talk with students the next day, the Daily News said.
"Hateful and racist behavior has absolutely no place in our schools and this substitute was immediately suspended and removed from our classrooms following this deeply disturbing allegation," DOE spokeswoman Katie O'Hanlon told the paper. "Schools must be safe havens, and the school offered counseling and support to these students."
One parent told the Daily News that the situation shows that not even elementary students are immune to anti-Asian behavior that's spiked in New York City this year and elsewhere.
"It's kind of alarming," the parent added to the paper. "It taught me a lesson that I need...to start teaching them at this young age to pay attention to these kinds of issues. That even if an adult talks like that you need to speak up. School is supposed to be a safe place and unfortunately it's not in this case."