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Teacher says East Village principal neglected racial issues


The principal of an East Village school slammed a staffer for asking about recognition of Black History Month — but looked the other way when a teacher cracked a joke about a classroom “Muslim ban,” a lawsuit charges.


A Tompkins Square Middle School teacher, filing anonymously as John Doe, says in his Manhattan Federal Court discrimination suit that Principal Sonhando Estwick put his career at risk by failing to address racial issues at his school.


The 34-year-old teacher, who is black and has 10 years of experience, seeks $5 million from the city.


Doe says his relationship with Estwick soured in 2012 when he asked during a meeting whether the school would be celebrating Black History Month.


Estwick, who is also black, replied the school doesn’t celebrate the month because it celebrates diversity year-round, according to court papers.


Later that day, Estwick allegedly pulled Doe aside and said “Way to call out the entire school!” He told Doe “his radical views are not welcome at the school” and that he was “an affirmative action hire,” papers say.


Doe — whose salary is $82,995 — was formally reprimanded in 2015 for unprofessional conduct and in 2017 for failure to follow a directive.


Estwick has a clean disciplinary record and is paid $152,359.


The teacher charges that Estwick began retaliating against him after he won an arbitration proceeding against the principal.


In October 2016, a parent complained to Estwick that a teacher cracked a joke about a Muslim student who dresses conservatively, the suit says.


The teacher, who is white, joked about the classroom needing a Muslim ban — but replaced the word “Muslim” with the student’s name, the suit says.

Estwick heads Tompkins Square Middle School in the East Village.

(Google)


Complaints were filed with the Department of Education’s investigative arm — but the teacher remained in the classroom, the suit says.


Doe cites the episode as evidence he wasn’t afforded the same leniency. Estwick unfairly ordered Doe to spend five months out of the classroom performing administrative tasks last year, the teacher charges.


Doe’s “reputation has been tarnished beyond repair and his future as a teaching professional irreparably compromised,” the suit says.


Doe and Estwick didn’t respond to requests for comment. Both men remain employed at their school.


City Education Department spokesman Doug Cohen said the city is investigating some of the claims in the suit.


“There is no place for discrimination of any kind in our schools and we are committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming learning environment for all students and staff,” Cohen said. “We are treating this with the utmost seriousness and are reviewing the lawsuit.”


The city has no formal policy requiring schools to celebrate Black History Month, which occurs in February.


But African-American history is included in social studies teaching material that guides instruction at all district run schools.


The suit was filed as a John Doe case to protect a vulnerable student.

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