By Sandra E. Garcia
A school district in New Hampshire placed a teacher on paid administrative leave this week during an investigation, school officials said, after video footage of two students singing a song with lyrics about the Ku Klux Klan and killing black people for an assignment drew outrage.
The Dover School District was working with students and educators at the school, Dover High, "to investigate and address an incident of extreme racial insensitivity," said a letter dated Monday that addressed the district's community and was signed by the district superintendent, William Harbron. "We are deeply concerned that an event such as this could occur."
The teacher, who has not been publicly identified, assigned a project for an 11th-grade history class at the school, in Dover, for which students were to use events from the Reconstruction era in a Christmas carol, according to interviews with a student and a parent of a different student in the class.
Two students, who have not been publicly identified, replaced the words to "Jingle Bells" with lyrics about the Ku Klux Klan and sang the modified carol in class on Friday, according to the student and parent.
A student interviewed, Chloe Harris, 16, said the lyrics to the song were distributed to the class before the song's performance. She said she began recording video footage on her phone of the two students singing the song, because she found the assignment and the lyrics upsetting.
"I wasn't really comfortable, and there was a better way he could teach it," Harris said in an interview, adding that she told the teacher the same thing. "He did not listen. He told me to call my lawyer if I was upset about it."
In video footage recorded by Harris, the two students can be heard singing "KKK, let's kill all the blacks, burn a cross on their front yard," as they appear on camera. Laughter from others in the classroom can also be heard at different points.
Harris said that she had asked the teacher if she could record the presentations, and that he had said no. When she asked the two students who were going to sing the song for permission to record it, she said, they told her she could.
Harris said she wanted evidence of the incident because she has heard people say racial slurs at the school in the past.
After she finished recording, Harris said she posted the footage to her Snapchat account. She was so upset she left the classroom, she said, walking around the school for 20 minutes to calm down until her next class, Spanish.
The day of the song's presentation, Jane Perlino Perry, a parent of a different student at the school, said her daughter told her about the episode when she came home from school that afternoon.
"She could tell right away that it didn't go well and it wasn't going to end well," Perry said her daughter told her.
Perry said she and others in the community she had spoken with were concerned that Dover could be portrayed in a negative way that, she thought, might not be accurate.
The city of Dover has a population of about 30,000, according to the 2010 census. Ninety percent of city residents are white, 2.2 percent are Hispanic or Latino, and 1.7 are black or African-American, according to the census data.
This past summer, Harbron put in place a leadership program for students in the school to learn to be aware of "biases and prejudices that we have," he said in an interview.
"If I am aware of this, I can understand that," he added.
Since returning to school after posting the footage, Harris said, another student confronted her over sharing the video, which has received significant media coverage. That student claimed that Harris "just wants attention," but for her part, Harris said that she would be back in class.
"I know there is probably going to be some backlash," Harris said. "I want people to realize this happens at our school."