Teacher Accused of Calling Haitian Student 'Chocolate Boy,' Faces Suspension
In Philip Roth's 2000 novel "The Human Stain," a classics professor, referring to two students who had never come to class, asks his seminar: "Do they exist or are they spooks?" The man eventually resigned over the remark; he didn't realize that the two students were black, and spooks was considered a racist term. It's unclear whether a teacher in South Florida made a similarly innocent slip when she allegedly called a Haitian-American student "little chocolate boy" and "chocolate that nobody wanted."
The Blanche Ely High School student, known only by the initials "P.S." recorded a video of Leslie Ranier pointing at him with a pointer and making such remarks last May. After the superintendent filed an administrative complaint in January, Ranier, who is also black, and a 22-year veteran of the Broward County School District, claimed she was referring to the chocolates she gives to students.
"I said, 'Not that particular chocolate,' meaning he could not get the chocolate on my desk," she told Local10.com. And "chocolate nobody wanted" was a reference to the dark chocolate that the students didn't like. Ranier further explained to WPTV that chocolate is an affectionate term in the black community, and that her husband, a Baptist reverend, calls her "Sweet Chocolate."
In the complaint, the superintendent Robert Runcie said Rainer had a history of "inappropriate conduct towards her part-Haitian, minority descent students," including telling one student, "I wish they would put you in a boat and send you back where you came from," and making another stand by a garbage can, because "that's where he belongs."
Ranier denies making most of the comments she's charged with, and says the others were taken out of context. She believes she is being unfairly targeted, as she says she was in the spring of 2010, when she was temporarily removed from her classroom after she and another teacher allegedly sprinkled holy water onto an avowed atheist colleague. They were both reinstated six weeks later. "I think that it shows the entire decision to remove them was calculated with the intent to defame and harass them," Ranier's attorney said at the time.
Runcie recommended that Ranier receive a three day unpaid suspension and diversity training, reports The Miami Herald, which the Broward County Schools Board is scheduled to vote on at its Tuesday meeting. "I have never, nor will I ever, offend a child," Rainer told WPTV. "I have nothing against Haitians, Italians, or whoever else. This is a made-up false accusation."
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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