DOVER — The president of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP is calling for the Dover School District to reverse its decision to retain John Carver, the Dover High School social studies teacher at the center of the KKK jingle controversy.
Speaking at Dover City Hall Tuesday morning, Juan M. Cofield said his organization is asking the Dover School District not to return Carver “to a position of care and tutelage” of students, and to examine its responsibility to protect students and ensure that systems are in place to provide education that recognizes multi-cultural differences.
“The primary function of a school system is to provide a well-rounded educational opportunity for its students (and) to provide an environment free from harm, both physically and mentally,” Cofield said.
Carver came under fire late last year after a video surfaced of two students in his class singing a jingle about the Ku Klux Klan to the tune of “Jingle Bells” that had the refrain, “KKK, Let’s kill all the blacks.” The jingle was created for a November assignment about the Reconstruction era that followed the Civil War.
Cofield said by retaining Carver, the district is sending the message that the KKK incident “was not that bad,” that students’ concerns and “mental anguish” don’t matter, and that there are no consequences for “truly bad behavior.”
“The issue is not a question of whether John Carver is a racist and the School Board need not reach judgment on this question,” Cofield said. “However, it is absolutely a question of his lack of reasonable judgment and his callous lack of consideration for the students entrusted for his tutelage and under his care.”
Carver was placed on paid leave Dec. 4 pending an investigation. On Jan. 18, it was announced he would remain on paid leave through the end of the school year and return at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year.
Also speaking at City Hall on Tuesday was Rogers Johnson, president of the Seacoast chapter of the NAACP. Johnson said he is troubled by the lack of information coming from the Dover School District about the incident.
“What evidence does the superintendent have which allows him to conclude that this issue was not egregious enough to fire the instructor, but egregious enough to have him take leave with full pay for seven months?” Johnson asked. “Do you know why the superintendent will not share this information with you? (Do) you know what this instructor’s background is? Do you know what his pedagogy is? His history? Do you know? I don’t know. Has anybody done the investigation?”
Johnson said he is also concerned he has heard of no public apology from Carver.
“More than two months after this event, this instructor has not apologized,” Johnson said. “He has not shown any ... remorse whatsoever.”
The presentation became contentious at times, with one audience member saying Carver is a “fine man” and accusing the School Board of not backing its teachers. Another lamented that Carver’s reputation is being tarnished when most of the facts of the case are unknown.
Dover School District Superintendent Dr. William Harbron said on Tuesday he stands by the district’s decision, and stressed that the district continues to take the issue of race relations seriously. He said Carver has committed to engage in a course of study on issues pertaining to race, bias and privilege this year.
“This plan includes accountability,” Harbron said, stressing he believes a punitive model creates a “system of fear” in the district. Harbron also reiterated his previously stated stance that the report on the school district’s investigation into the incident won’t be publicly released because of confidentiality laws.
Activist and educator John Reed, a former social studies teacher at Barnstable High School in Massachusetts, said Carver showed poor judgment in assigning the project that led to the students singing the jingle.
“Some things are not OK,” Reed said. “You can say no, that’s not the kind of assignment we want you to do. Direct it toward something else. It’s OK to be creative and tell jokes. But when you use ‘KKK all the way,’ there’s something wrong with that. There are other things and other people who could have been talked about, or other events that could have been discussed.”