On Wednesday morning, students at a New Jersey high school logged into their remote landscape and design class, expecting their teacher to lead a discussion about climate change. Instead, the teacher launched into an expletive-laced, racist tirade against Black Lives Matter and George Floyd, the man killed by a Minneapolis police officer. “He’s not a hero, he’s like a criminal,” yelled the teacher, Howard Zlotkin, a white man, spoke to a group of about 15 students via a Google Meet call. He chastised students for transforming criminals into heroes “because they’re Black or because they have a bad story,” as he put it.
One of the students videotaped the rant and immediately contacted school officials. She contacted a local news station after they did not respond.
Mr. Zlotkin, a science teacher at William L. Dickinson High School in Jersey City, has been suspended with pay, according to Mussab Ali, president of the Jersey City Board of Education. A spokeswoman for Hudson County Community College confirmed that Mr. Zlotkin was also suspended with pay from his position as an adjunct professor. “The actions that this teacher took are not representative of a district in the most diverse city in the country,” Mr. Ali said.
Mr. Zlotkin said that he could not comment in detail because of the investigation, but that he would “love one day to give my side of the story.”
Despite the fact that nearly 15 minutes of video showed him repeatedly insulting and cursing students, he described the footage as a “very well-edited sound bite.”
Since schools began holding classes online, there have been numerous reports of teachers making racist and offensive remarks across the country. In some cases, teachers were caught making racist remarks while thinking they were on mute. In Mr. Zlotkin’s case, he was aware that he was being heard.
Timmia Williams, a 17-year-old senior who provided videos from two days of class, said a climate change assignment devolved into profane rants about race and personal attacks on students, including herself.
Ms. Williams stated that the students turned in short research papers on Wednesday morning. After she turned in her paper, the teacher inquired about humans’ role in climate change. She claims he eventually brought up his disagreement with Black Lives Matter.
As four students, including Ms. Williams, a Black student, questioned his stance on the issue, he became increasingly irritated. He swore at one of them for telling him he had white privilege. He then assigned the four students, all of whom were female, to write an essay about “why Black lives should matter,” according to Ms. Williams. No other students were instructed to complete the assignment.
Dickinson High School has a student body that is 47 percent Hispanic and 15 percent Black. Minorities make up 85% of the student body.
Ms. Williams informed her mother of what had occurred. She stated that she was too shaken to celebrate her acceptance into college that day. “This is the first time I ever felt somebody telling me that my opinion doesn’t matter because I’m young and because I’m Black and stuff,” Ms. Williams said. “It just threw me off. I just started crying.”
Mr. Zlotkin appeared upset the next day in class after she refused to do the assignment. “Why? You can’t make a case for yourself?” he told Ms. Williams, according to a video of the interaction. “No, you can’t, Timmia, that’s why.”
Mr. Zlotkin cursed at Ms. Williams and later told her to “talk to the hand” when she began to defend herself. He chastised another student who refused to complete the essay and kicked a third student out of the remote class meeting after he defended his classmates, according to her.
Ms. Williams stated that she and her parents contacted the school and the Board of Education about what occurred following Wednesday’s class but received no response. She felt she wasn’t being heard and wanted to speak up for herself and her classmates. That’s why they gave the news station video of the classes.
Her mother, Margie Nieves, said she hasn’t received any communication or apology from the school.