Katura Stokes's 12 year-old son had struggled to adapt to online learning at his Southern California school, so his mother was thrilled when his science teacher set up a January Zoom call to help him.
But then the teacher, Kimberly Newman, apparently forgot to end the call.
For more than 30 minutes, Stokes says, she recorded Newman as she made racist comments about the family, which is Black, and bashed Stokes's parenting skills."She's answered her phone for the first time the entire year," the White sixth-grade teacher allegedly says in a video recording shared with The Washington Post. "I mean these parents, that's what kind of piece of sh*t they are."
Newman, who was suspended that same day after Stokes complained to school officials, has since resigned, said David Garcia, a spokesman with the Palmdale School District. According to Garcia, the district was never able to open an investigation into the incident because Newman refused to cooperate and resigned shortly after district officials called her for an interview.
Now, Stokes is taking legal action against the school district for the emotional toll the incident has inflicted upon her family. On Thursday she filed a claim, the first step toward a lawsuit against a public entity under California law, that also seeks monetary damages for negligence, defamation and civil rights violations.
"They are so disappointed and in disbelief over the fact that this is still happening in this day and age," Neil K. Gehlawat, one of the family's attorneys, told The Post. "Ms. Stokes was asking for help and in response, she gets a racist rant and unbeknown to her, her son is listening to a lot of it. There's this teacher that he looked up to saying these awful things. It's just so hurtful and difficult for him to process."
Garcia said the district was quick to act and that the teacher's behavior would not be tolerated.
"We do not stomach racist behavior at the Palmdale School District, whether you are caught on video or not," he said.Newman could not be reached for comment.
This is not the first time the school district in Palmdale, a city north of Los Angeles, has made headlines for racist incidents. In 2019, four teachers and a principal at another school were suspended after a picture of them posing with what appeared to be a noose circulated on social media, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Stokes said her son has struggled since the school switched to remote learning last year. School officials suggested she ask his teachers for assistance, so she scheduled a Zoom on January 20 with Newman. The teacher then helped him complete all of his late assignments.
But just when Stokes was about to end the call, Newman, who had not exited the conference, began a tirade of "racist" and "inflammatory" remarks, her claim states. Stokes, in disbelief, took out her phone and began recording.
First, Newman allegedly described writing and sending an email to teachers and administrators, "in which she repeatedly mocked and denigrated Ms. Stokes."
Then, in the recording, Newman said: "The family is a piece of sh*t, they are Black, they are Black," before suggesting Stokes and her son are lazy.
She continued, "Your son has learned to lie to everybody and make excuses ... Since you've taught him to make excuses that nothing is his fault. This is what Black people do."
Newman was still ranting when Stokes says she called the school principal to alert him about the incident. The teacher only left the Zoom after a school employee called her to ask if she had made racist and profane remarks about Stokes and her son, which she denied, the claim states.
Garcia said Newman was suspended hours later. He added that the school offered Stokes and her son counseling, which the family allegedly declined. Gehlawat said the school sent out someone to Stokes's home to get a copy of the recording.
The school announced the teacher's resignation at a Feb. 5 press conference, the Antelope Valley Press reported.
"Our investigation is limited in that the teacher is no longer with the district so as you can imagine her cooperation is non-existent." Garcia said. "With her not at the district, we have no recourse at this point."
Gehlawat, whose office filed the claim on Thursday, said Stokes does not believe the district's actions were sufficient and worries that her son will not have a "fair shake" at the school after Newman allegedly sent emails denigrating her and her son to teachers and administrators.
"That makes her believe that there's other teachers that have similar feelings towards them, maybe not to the same level as the science teacher who said these things but on some level," Gehlawat said. "As a parent, Ms. Stokes thinks that other teachers think of her as a problem parent."
Garcia said the district "has no evidence" of those emails.
Stokes's son has since returned to the virtual classroom, at least until the end of the school year, Gehlawat said.
"Ms. Stokes and her son have been permanently scarred as a result of Mrs. Newman's comments," the claim states.