Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Settlement Reached in Dispute Over Project at Hot Springs High
SANTA FE State Education Secretary Veronica Garcia said Wednesday she reached a settlement over a racism project in which students posted "whites only'' signs on Hot Springs High School water faucets.
High school teacher Michelle Williams; her husband, Principal Ronald Williams II; and Truth or Consequences school district Superintendent James Nesbitt have agreed to take four hours of racial sensitivity training, according to a settlement agreement released by Garcia's office.
The agreement, which came after two days of hearings at the Truth or Consequences Civic Center, said the student-initiated project last spring created at least the appearance of discrimination and should not have been approved.
"It was in the best interest of all parties to agree on this settlement,'' Garcia said. "To prolong the hearing would have been counterproductive for everyone involved.''
The Associated Press left messages seeking comment from the three educators at the district superintendent's office and on Nesbitt's cell phone.
State officials, who called the experiment discriminatory, notified the educators last year that they faced penalties that could include revocation of their teacher's licenses.
The settlement dismissed those notices, but the trio will have letters of reprimand placed in their files for 18 months.
Under the agreement, Nesbitt also will require administrators in the Truth or Consequences district to undergo racial sensitivity training and will issue a directive over "the use of students as subjects in research and experimentation projects or activities.''
School officials described the project which also posted "people of color'' signs on water faucets as an attempt to explore the nation's history of racism.
Students posted the signs last April as part of a project for an English class focusing on social justice, and had hoped to secretly monitor others' reactions.
Other students tore down the signs within minutes, but a black student, Gabriel Reynolds, said the signs shocked and angered him. He complained that he was humiliated.
The high school has about 426 students, seven of whom are black, officials have said.
Reynolds' mother, Susan Reynolds, has said the educators needed to take responsibility for their actions, and that many in the community didn't understand how hurtful and discriminatory the experiment was.
Forty-nine Hot Springs High staff and faculty members signed a letter to Garcia last year which called the family's complaint a "scurrilous attempt to defame three decent and honorable educators and a school district which we feel is exemplary.''
Copyright ©2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.