KKK robes in class? Students' presentation sparks debate

KKK robes in class: Clark County School District officials investigated and the Las Vegas Academy principal sent parents a letter calling the incident "unfortunate" after one of the students was photographed wearing the KKK white robe and hooded mask in class.

(AP Photo/James Edward Bates)
Ku Klux Klan members of South Mississippi Knights and Mississippi White Knights participate in a cross-lighting ceremony in Petal, Miss., in 2001. The United States Supreme Court ruled in 2003, that states can punish Ku Klux Klansmen and others who set crosses afire, finding that a burning cross is an instrument of racial terror so threatening that it overshadows free speech concerns.

School officials and community members in Las Vegas said they don't fault a high school teacher for letting two students dress in Ku Klux Klan costumes during a classroom presentation on U.S. history.

Clark County School District officials investigated and the Las Vegas Academy principal sent parents a letter calling the incident "unfortunate" after one of the students was photographed wearing the white robe and hooded mask at school outside class Jan. 9.

"While the presentation was designed to highlight the atrocities committed by the Klan, and there was no intention to harm or offend on the part of the students, it was in poor judgment and inappropriate for students to go to such lengths to convey their message," Principal Scott Walker said in his Jan. 11 letter.

The Las Vegas Sun reported that school officials received several complaints after the photograph was posted on social media.

The teacher and student weren't identified, and district officials said he wasn't disciplined. Amanda Fulkerson, district communications officer, called the incident a personnel matter.

Several students, parents, teachers and one school board member backed the teacher at a Thursday meeting.

"This teacher has my support," said Clark County school Trustee Linda Young, the only black and minority school board member. Young noted that she didn't receive complaints from the public, and said she believed the teacher meant no harm.

Esther Langston, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, professor emeritus with the Delta Sigma Theta black sorority and educational organization, said the teacher needed the academic freedom to educate students in a creative fashion.

Clark County School District equity and diversity chief Greta Peay said teachers must prepare carefully before and after a potentially controversial lesson to avoid misunderstandings.

The Sun reported the same performing arts magnet high school came under public scrutiny last year after theater students used the N-word during a production of "Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

The same teacher who let students wear KKK costumes also permitted students to dress as Adolf Hitler in other assignments, the newspaper said.

Officials said that since August 2012, more than 6,500 of the district's 18,000 teachers have taken voluntary diversity training classes, mostly after school and on weekends.

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