Updated at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday with comments from the Anti-Defamation League.
Updated at 1:29 p.m. Tuesday with news on civil rights meeting today.
Without knowing the exact context of the school assignment, it is hard for me to get worked up over the four Lumpkin County students wearing Klan costumes. If the purpose of the class assignment was to show how cowardly, hateful and pathetic the Klan was, then I have no objections to the historic reenactment. I want students to see what guises hate has taken historically so they can recognize it today.
I would have asked the principal beforehand and likely sent a note home to parents, but all that may have happened in this case. It is not surprising that the sight of students in white robes would be startling, but I would want to see the finished product and whether it contributed to students learning about this dreadful part of American history.
A history teacher in Dahlonega was placed on administrative leave Monday after she let four students wear Ku Klux Klan outfits in a historical reenactment. Catherine Ariemma, a five-year veteran with the Lumpkin County school system, teaches an advanced placement history class at Lumpkin County High.
Her students were filming reenactments of various historical periods last week, and four donned Klan outfits, superintendent Dewey Moye told the AJC.
Students from other classrooms saw them as they walked through a hallway while wearing the costumes to an outdoor shoot, he said, adding that the parents of an African-American child later complained about it.
She said she continues to stand behind the video project and the lesson it was to convey to her students.
“This project was about racism in U.S. history,” Ariemma said. “Not just racism against African Americans, but racism as a whole.”
She said including the Ku Klux Klan was an essential piece.
“You cannot discuss racism without discussing the Klan,” she said. “To do so would be to condone their actions.”
She admitted that she may have made a mistake by letting the students film the Klan reenactment on campus.
“I feel terrible that I have students who feel threatened because of something from my class,” Ariemma told the AJC. “In hindsight, I wouldn’t have had them film that part at school.”
Ariemma is an award-winning teaching. Last year, the Georgia Senate passed a resolution lauding her “dedication to her students and her profession” after she was honored as Lumpkin County High School’s 2009 STAR Teacher. The Student Teacher Achievement Recognition program is sponsored by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Professional Association of Georgia Educators and recognizes teaching excellence.
Moye said Ariemma has never been reprimanded for missteps and that she has always been an “outstanding” teacher. But he said he could not ignore this incident.
She could lose her job over it.
The Anti-Defamation League weighed in Tuesday with this statement:
The Anti-Defamation League, today said that Lumpkin County School Administrators acted appropriately in ordering administrative leave for a teacher who allowed students to parade in Ku Klux Klan costumes in the school. The teacher, Catherine Ariemma, acknowledges now that it was a mistake to allow her students to walk through school in the Klan attire. “But,” said ADL Southeast Regional Director Bill Nigut, “unfortunately she should have known better than to allow it.”
“Some students tell us they were offended, others say they were frightened when confronted with fellow students dressed in Klan garb, one of the most toxic symbols of racism and religious bigotry in American history.” After a conversation with Lumpkin County Superintendent, Dewey Moye, Nigut said he was pleased that school officials recognize the seriousness of the incident. “We understand the teacher involved has had a stellar career but the school had no choice but to condemn her decision in this matter.”
And now there is a release about a meeting between Lumpkin school officials and civil rights activists Tuesday afternoon:
Civil and human rights leader Rev. Markel Hutchins has called a meeting today at 4:00 pm with Lumpkin County Schools Superintendent Dewey Moye, Sheriff Stacy Jarrard, County Commission Chairman Dr. John Radar, Dahlonega Mayor Gary McCollough and other officials to discuss the recent high-profile, racially tense incident of students wearing KKK attire at Lumpkin County High School in Dahlonega, a small city in North Georgia. The leaders will meet at the Lumpkin County School System and will emerge at approximately 5:00 pm to address the media.