A teacher at a New Hampshire high school has been placed on leave amid an investigation into a class assignment that has sparked outrage across the community.
Parents and students at Dover High School are demanding answers after video of two high school students singing a KKK-themed Christmas carol in class surfaced on social media over the weekend. In the clip, the students are heard singing “KKK, KKK, let’s kill all the Blacks” to the tune of popular Christmas song “Jingle Bells.”
Superintendent William Harbron penned a letter to the Dover community Monday decrying the event as an “incident of extreme racial insensitivity.” Habron told local station WMUR 9 the district is in the early stages of investigating the incident.
“What we’re trying to do is figure out what is in this video that’s a viable lesson for our entire school community,” the superintendent wrote, adding he was “deeply concerned” something like this would happen. “[We] understand the emotion and concern that this event will create for our students, families and staff.”
Harbron confirmed the song was sung during an 11th grade U.S. history class last week. For the assignment, students were tasked with re-creating a Christmas jingle about the Reconstruction Era, the period after the Civil War. The students in the video were assigned the Ku Klux Klan, who used violence and intimidation in response to the economic gains made by freed Blacks.
In addition to the lyrics about the KKK, the song also made reference to grand wizards and cross burnings, and even included a line that read, “White masks on our heads, blood beneath our feet, laughing till they’re dead — ha, ha, ha.”
Classmate Chloe Harris said the lyrics made her uncomfortable, so much so that she stormed out of class when fellow students began laughing during the performance. Harris, who’s biracial, managed to record a portion of the incident and said she didn’t think anyone would believe her when she told them what happened.
“I thought if I don’t record this, this is going to be the only evidence that I have that this happened,” the 16-year old told NBC10 Boston.
“When everyone was laughing I got really frustrated,” she added. “I was like why are you guys laughing at this? So I had to walk out of class. I’m disgusted by this.”
Harbron said the students were unaware they were being recorded.
In an interview WMUR 9, one of the students involved acknowledged the song’s offensive content but said it was intended as satire to illustrate how pervasive racism really is. The student insisted they never meant to hurt anyone.
“I want them to know that it was not our intention to offend anyone, we were simply trying to make a factual reference to the KKK and the history,” he told the station. “We were just trying to bring to light the terrible history of the KKK and about what they did.”
Though classmates can be heard laughing in the video, the student said the laughter was more about the ridiculousness of the assignment rather than the contents of the song.
Whatever the reason for their performance, Harbron called the assignment “harmful.”
“This is definitely not the culture or climate that we want in a school,” the superintendent said. “We want a place where all students feel safe, feel accepted and are honored for who they are and what they bring to scenarios.”
The principal of Dover High has since spoken with the class and is now planning how to meet with other students in Dover to discuss the incident.
As the unnamed teacher remains on leave, school officials said the two students involved likely won’t be disciplined.
Dover, like the rest of the Granite State, has a black population of less than 2 percent.
Watch more in the video below.