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Robinson teacher resigns after slavery lesson with student demonstration

Robinson teacher resigns after slavery lesson with student demonstration

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A history teacher and coach at Robinson Junior High School has resigned after the father of a Black student complained that the teacher asked his son to stand on a desk to illustrate a human auction during the teacher’s lesson about the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The 13-year-old student’s father, Rashaneal Scott, has hired an attorney but wants to talk to Robinson Independent School District administrators and teachers about implementing diversity training before exploring the possibility of filing a civil rights lawsuit, said Scott’s attorney, Marcell McCray, of Houston.

School officials did not sanction the teacher, Andrew Gochis, after the Sept. 9 classroom incident. But his attorney, David Deaconson, said the 23-year-old Gochis resigned out of concern that his students and athletes would be drawn into controversy. Besides depicting a minority student as a slave, Gochis also upset a number of parents in his discussion with students about the horrific treatment of enslaved females, including describing them as “sex dolls,” McCray said.

Gochis, who is now a substitute teacher in the Midway school system, declined to be interviewed for this story, Deaconson said. Messages left Wednesday and Thursday by the Tribune-Herald for three Robinson school administrators, including Superintendent Michael Hope, were not returned.

McCray said he and Scott have been frustrated in their efforts to contact school officials to discuss the incident. He said school administrators have not responded to multiple requests to discuss the incident and their perception that Robinson schools are racially insensitive. McCray referred to a lawsuit filed in June against the school district by former High School Principal Lamar Collins and his wife, Rose Collins, a former substitute teacher.

The Collinses, who said they were two of only four Black employees at Robinson High School, allege they were forced out of their jobs in 2019 because of “bigotry, racism and discrimination.” The suit remains pending.

“My presumption is based upon the fact that these events continue to happen that there is some type of culture at that institution that harbors these types of events,” McCray said. “This incident is certainly not isolated. They continue to happen, and at the very least, they appear unconcerned about rectifying these acts. There is a gross level of insensitivity of minorities and these actions have to be looked into.”

Deaconson said Gochis is a first-year teacher who was trying to impart to his students the horrors of slavery “with the goal to make sure students understood both the factual history and brutal and inhumane reality that was created.” He said Gochis asked students in three of his classes — all football players he coached and knew well — if they would participate in his demonstration about slave auctions.

“One was white. One was Hispanic. One was Black,” Deaconson said. “He asked each student before the exercise and each readily agreed to participate. The reason for asking these three students had nothing to do with race or skin color but was based on his knowledge and respect for each as a young student. What he failed to consider is that some might read more into the exercise than was truly intended. He also did not consider the impact of skin color when asking these students. Instead, he relied on his knowledge of and personal relationship with each student.”

Gochis learned of Scott’s complaint from school administrators. He would have welcomed the opportunity to address Scott’s concerns and to discuss the matter, Deaconson said. That did not happen.

“His good relationship with the students was confirmed when the student whose parent complained reached out and apologized to Mr. Gochis, believing it somehow was his fault,” Deaconson said. “Mr. Gochis assured him it was not. He decided to resign in hopes no student would get dragged into something that was done solely with positive intentions, teaching the students about the wrongness of slavery. While he received nothing but positive communications from his students and requests from those students and others that he reconsider, he decided to continue to put his students first. He was not disciplined or asked to resign. He simply chose to put his students first.”

McCray countered that the young teen loves sports, is a gifted athlete and did not want to disappoint his coach and teacher. He said the student likely did not understand the implications of the exercise until he went home and his father explained the situation to him. McCray said it is up to teachers to make proper decisions that benefit their students.

“It is hard to say someone is playing the race card when you use a Black kid as the subject of a slavery demonstration,” McCray said. “It’s all about race. That very well may be the point he was trying to make, but that doesn’t explain how this got beyond the vetting process and the person who implements the curriculum. How can that happen? I’m not even sure the teacher understood the implication of his actions.

“That could be reflections about the level of insensitivity floating around that community. Mr. Scott still doesn’t know what happened, and the fact that he was only able to get more information from your newspaper is evidence of the problem. He didn’t want litigation, but they have not responded. We have received more information from (the Tribune-Herald) than the school has provided in three weeks.”

In an email Gochis sent to the parents of his students after the incident, he said he wanted to explain his lesson plan.

“Today we are talking about the transatlantic trade and slavery is included in that subject,” the email states. “While talking about slavery I mentioned how male and female slaves would’ve been treated. Some of the information covered on how female slaves were treated could’ve come across to students as too strong and potentially offensive. If this is the case for your student I apologize profusely and will make sure I apologize to each class tomorrow.

“When I teach I make it my goal to teach the whole truth, I need to remember that I am not teaching to a group of college students but instead a group of Jr. High students who have not been exposed to as much yet. I again apologize for any offense I caused to your student and if you ask your student I hope they will tell you I strive everyday to set them up for success and have promised to be an advocate for them whenever they need one and for whatever they need an advocate for,” the email says in part.

Peaches Henry, president of the Waco NAACP and an English professor at McLennan Community College, said Gochis’ actions are indefensible.

“Under no circumstances is it appropriate to put students, white or Black, but especially Black, in a pantomime of slavery,” Henry said. “That is inappropriate under all circumstances. An adult instructor should know that, and there is some indication that he did because he spoke to the student ahead of time. But what kind of teaching value is there to have students pantomime slavery? There are plenty of photos and drawings online to give him the audio-visuals that he needs to teach in class.”

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