A teacher is suing the Commack school district stating it has fostered an atmosphere of racial harassment and discrimination against her for more than 17 years.
Andrea Bryan, of Bay Shore, filed a lawsuit Dec. 19 in the U.S. District Court of Eastern New York against Commack Union Free School District saying administrators “exhibited a deliberate indifference” when she reported her fellow faculty and students were racially harassing her, according to the lawsuit.
Bryan, who is described only as a “black female of Caribbean descent” in the lawsuit, has worked as English teacher at Commack High School since 2002. She alleges the racial harassment began prior to 2015, when a faculty colleague first told her a bag of peanuts was “for whites only.” The teacher said she reported a complaint with her supervisor, according to court records.
“The Commack school district takes any allegation of discrimination seriously and, as a matter of policy and practice, acts swiftly in response to any claim,” district spokeswoman Brenda Lentsch said.
Bryan alleges that the racial discrimination against her, as “the only black teacher in the entire school district,” has only escalated since then.
“We can say that all of her claims were investigated and, to the extent appropriate, promptly addressed.”
— Brenda Lentsch
In the lawsuit, she details an alleged incident where she was asked to “translate slave talk” by the same co-worker while English students were studying Arthur Miller’s play, “The Crucible,” which features a character named Tituba who is an enslaved black woman.
Bryan also claims to have received a bottle of hand sanitizer during a Secret Santa gift giving between co-workers with a $50 spending limit, that she took indicated the co-worker thought she was “dirty” due to her race.
The district’s spokesperson said that the school’s administration have been made aware of the incidents alleged by Bryan over recent years.
“We can say that all of her claims were investigated and, to the extent appropriate, promptly addressed,” Lentsch said in a statement. “Several of these allegations were first raised many years ago and were resolved at that time. Many of the allegations in the lawsuit are false.”
While unwilling to discuss specific details citing privacy requirements, the district’s spokeswoman said Bryan’s claim that she is the only black teacher in Commack school district is “incorrect.”
But the English teacher said the racially motivated insults and harassment she experienced went beyond the faculty and administration, and began to trickle down to students in her classroom. Bryan alleges a student once came to school in blackface makeup dressed as Aunt Jemima, a caricature of “a devoted and submissive plantation slave” depicted on a line of pancake syrup and breakfast foods put out by The Quaker Oats Company. For several years, the teacher claims students have called her Aunt Jemima in the school’s classrooms, hallways and cafeteria causing her to be “greatly humiliated, embarrassed and degraded.”
Commack school district’s Code of Conduct states that “intimidation or abuse based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender (identity or expression), or sex” will not be tolerated, according to Lentsch.
Through the lawsuit, Bryan is seeking monetary damages from the district for the racial
discrimination, though the documents don’t specify a dollar amount. Her attorney, Peter Romero of Hauppauge, said he had no comment given the matter is currently pending litigation. A jury trial has been demanded.