Thirteen-year-old Jada Williams' English teacher at School #3 took offense to an essay the student wrote about Frederick Douglass. The essay was written over the Christmas break, but Williams' mother said Wednesday, despite her complaints, the issue remains unresolved.
In her essay about the "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass" Williams drew a parallel between the slavemaster's attempt to discourage Douglass from learning to read, and her white teachers in Rochester who she argued don't do enough to teach minority students how to read.
In the essay, the eighth grader wrote, "Most white teachers that I have come in contact with, over the last several years of my life, has failed to instruct us even today." Williams' English teacher took offense to being lumped in with that characterization. Williams explained, "I told her that I was talking about white teachers that did not teach and she told me not to talk about her colleagues."
Williams' parents say other teachers began to single out their daughter, a problem that a series of meetings failed to address. They requested a transfer from School #3 and the District switched her to School #19. On February 6, her first day at the new school, Williams said she witnessed several fights and didn't feel comfortable going back. Tuesday was her first day attending School #19 in nearly a month. She did not go back Wednesday. Williams feels expressing her opinion about the Frederick Douglass book has ruined her life. Fighting back tears, she said, "I love to go to school and I feel like they're taking that away from me."
Her parents are still seeking an explanation from the District. "My question to them is, what do you do when the teachers misconduct themselves?" said Carla Williams, Jada' mother.
Rochester School District Interim Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas acknowledged Wednesday that Williams' teacher did not promote the District's mission of encouraging students to explore ideas freely. "Of course that's not the best way to handle a situation like this," he said. Vargas would not offer specifics about any disciplinary action. "Suffice it to say I am addressing the situation," he said.
After several weeks in limbo, the Williams family does not feel that's the case. "I would like to see the teachers get reprimanded for what they did and I would like a public apology from them, and I would like to pick the school of my choice," said the eighth grader.
Williams' mother said this controversy is not about race, but about her daughter's ability to express her thoughts freely. Her essay was recently acknowledged by the Frederick Douglass Foundation of New York, which awarded the 13-year-old its first-ever Spirit of Freedom Award on February 18.
Williams' scholastic future remains uncertain.