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Brashear teacher, student leader defend principal’s slavery question

Samson X Horne

A teacher and the Student Council president at Brashear High School say the principal’s heart was in the right place on Thursday when she asked the school’s 1,200 students whether they’d try to escape slavery.

“She wouldn’t do anything to hurt these kids. She was trying to engage a meaningful conversation,” said librarian Carlton Heywood, who is black. He has been at Brashear eight years and Pittsburgh Public Schools for 27 years. He also doubles as an African American studies teacher.

Principal Kimberly Safran’s inquiry sparked outrage , both at the school and with parents, according to Trib news partner WPXI.

Safran, who is white, wasn’t immediately available for comment for this story.

The question, which was part of the school’s “Restorative Practice,” was asked at the conclusion of the morning announcements that are broadcast over the school’s intercom.

Heywood said Restorative Practice questions, which he said are crafted by another administrator, are asked every morning at the school with the intent to prompt dialogue beyond academic curriculum to start the day.

The question is forwarded to all staff members in the morning, prior to the start of the school day.

Heywood said he didn’t read the question that morning, but did hear it over the intercom.

He said faculty and students alike have come to him to help cope with the fallout.

“It was awkward to hear on the loudspeaker,” he said. “Students were pretty shocked. Especially our African American students. I think it’s the sensitivity of it being February (Black History Month) and them feeling like they have to come up with an answer for their peers.

“I think she feels horrible about putting them in a position like that.”

In response to the backlash levied against Safran, Student Council President Leon Blair, who is black, posted his own message on Friday night saying the principal has “no malice in her heart.”

The senior’s comments aligned with Heywood’s assertion that the question was meant to spark dialogue.

He also challenged that some of his peers and their parents act “ingnorantly” because they don’t “accurately know their history,” and that there’s been an effort to spread a “false narrative” about Safran.

“We cannot spread false or one sided narratives and bash someone just because you or your child lack the ability to critically think and have the conversation. A lot of students do not know their history in depth therefore when they hear a tough question such as the one that was asked they react ignorantly,” he wrote.

Blair added that the school is making an effort “to repair any harm caused.” He did not elaborate.

I see a lot of people sharing a false narrative about my school and principal. So I will address it. I am the student…

Posted by Leon Lee – Blair on Friday, February 8, 2019

A Facebook post from Amber Stone, who says her son attends Brashear, said her son called he upset that morning about the incident.

Sloan said she called Safran, but the principal’s explanation didn’t “match up with the question.”

A Thursday Facebook post from Amber Stone, who says her son attends Brashear, said her son called he upset that morning about the incident.

Sloan said she called Safran, but the principal’s explanation didn’t “match up with the question.”

Heywood said the question “grabbed wings” because it was executed poorly, not because of bad intentions.

“Maybe the question could have been framed to reflect a historical time period, so (the students) could build on something they’d been learning in class,” he said.

Since Thursday, Safran has offered schoolwide apologies over the intercom, and has stopped some students in the hallway to personally apologize “one-on-one,” Heywood said.

Moving forward, Heywood said the school will start asking students to work with faculty members to formulate Restorative Practice questions.

He also said the administration has talked about plans to work with a school equity team and the Black Student Union and establish sensitivity training.

Samson X Horne is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @spinal_tapp.