A New Jersey high school teacher has been suspended after going on a profanity-laced rant during a virtual class in which he called George Floyd a criminal and denounced the Black Lives Matter movement.
For reasons that remain unclear, Howard Zlotkin, a science teacher at William L. Dickinson High School in Jersey City, turned what was supposed to be a discussion about climate change Wednesday into an enraged diatribe toward his students.
In a recording of the video obtained by WNBC, Zlotkin, who is White, is heard saying that people are “whining and crying about Black Lives Matter.” He used expletives in saying that Floyd — who was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin last year — was a “criminal” who “got arrested and he got killed because he wouldn’t comply,” according to the video.
The school first learned of Zlotkin’s misconduct when Timmia Williams, 17, a senior, filmed the class and her mother immediately told school authorities. When they did not get an answer, they contacted WNBC, which first reported the story.
The district’s authorities said Zlotkin was removed Thursday and is under investigation.
Zlotkin said Sunday that he could not comment in detail because of the ongoing investigation but claimed that his comments were taken “out of context.”
“I am being judged on a snapshot out of a 60-minute class,” he said.
“I tell the students it’s all about facts, and I was teaching those facts. I am a science teacher,” he added. “My little snapshot that was posted to the world was out of this context.”
Zlotkin also teaches at Hudson County Community College and has been suspended with pay, according to the New York Times.
Mussab Ali, president of the Jersey City Board of Education, confirmed Sunday that Zlotkin has been suspended with pay as the school board investigates. Ali added that Zlotkin has been a teacher in the district for 20 years and has tenure.
“His comments are not representative of the values of the board of education,” Ali said in an interview Sunday. He added that the board passed a resolution after Floyd’s death that called racism “a public health crisis,” considering the population at Dickinson High School is made up largely of minority students.
According to U.S. News and World Report, 85 percent of the students are minorities, including 47 percent Hispanic and 15 percent Black.
Williams was in good spirits Wednesday after finding out that she had been accepted to college. She called her mother, Margie Nieves, and they planned to go out for dinner to celebrate. Hours later, Williams called her mother again in tears, saying her landscape and design teacher had gone on an obscene rant against the students.
Williams told The Washington Post that the students were asked to do reports on climate change. When she turned in her assignment on Wednesday, she said, the teacher asked about the impact of human actions on global warming. He then brought up the subject of the Black Lives Matter movement and his negative opinion of it.
Williams said Zlotkin focused on Black students while talking about Floyd’s killing and the Black Lives Matter movement and then picked four Black students and asked them to write an essay about why Black lives matter.
Zlotkin aggressively responded when one of the students argued that Zlotkin was showing his White privilege, Williams said. In the video, the teacher is heard using profanity for being called privileged.
To the shock of both mother and daughter, Zlotkin was back in class on Thursday and cursed at the students again. When Williams told him she had not written the essay, video shows that he told her she was “full of [expletive].” Another classmate was also kicked out of the virtual class after defending the students.
In an interview Sunday, Nieves said the incident has had a big effect on her daughter, who has been having trouble sleeping since the episode. The mother said the incident has left her daughter doubting her self-worth.
“She now asks me if I accept her for being African American,” said Nieves, who is Hispanic. “She feels like society is looking at her differently for the color of her skin.”
Nieves added that she is not satisfied with the school’s decision to suspend the teacher with pay and accused school officials of not checking on her daughter.
Despite the stress of the situation, Williams said, she thinks it was the right thing to do to stand up for herself and denounce Zlotkin’s behavior.
“The more we stay quiet, we won’t be heard,” she said in an interview Sunday.
“If you speak up, then people start paying attention” she added, saying that Zlotkin had used profanity in front of the students before and that she had denounced it to the school’s principal.