Does State Really Think Caribbean-Born Speakers of English Don't Speak Well Enough to Teach Phonics in Atlanta?
(All names have been redacted except for those of
Dr. Trotter, the Superintendents, and Attorney Ramay.)

December 13, 2006




Ms. Kathy Cox

State Superintendent of Schools

2066 Twin Towers East

Atlanta, Georgia  30334




Dear Superintendent Cox:


     Let me congratulate you on your reelection last month and wish you a productive four more years working in the State for our children and our teachers.  As Chairman of the Metro Association of Classroom Educators (MACE), I am an outspoken advocate for teachers who are mistreated by administrators.  I often pen letters to local superintendents as well as principals, headmasters, and assorted administrative types.  This is the first time I have had recourse to write you about the apparently inappropriate actions of one of your employees as these actions have caused distress for one of MACE’s valued members, Ms. Celine Thomas, a first grade teacher at Canon School in the Atlanta Public School System (APS).  Ms. Thomas has taught successfully for over a decade in APS and, before that, for six years in New York and a year in Decatur, Georgia.  She possesses both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and a Specialist’s in Curriculum and Instruction.  Ms. Thomas possesses impeccable credentials with a corresponding platinum experience in teaching.  That is why both she and I are greatly concerned about a comment apparently made by Ms. Connie Mote, of Reading First, to Principal Gloria Harold about Ms. Thomas’ accent.  Ms. Thomas, native born of Trinidad, has never been subjected to any criticism regarding her method of speaking, and such criticism has never had a negative impact on her professional status – until now.  This concern about Ms. Thomas’ accent appears to be discriminatory, and a letter, which I have attached, sent to her details the discrimination.


     Principal Harold, in response to a letter of concern sent to her by Ms. Thomas on October 27, 2006, writes:  “It is true that during our last Reading First observation, Ms. Connie Mote did mention to Ms. Olive and Dr. Black that we needed to make sure that the students were receiving the proper sound production modeling.  One concern did stem from the presence of your accent although it is a point that she has stressed in general during training and during the previous observation.”  She continues:  “When you addressed this concern to me after your discussion with Dr. Black, I told you that we were not discriminating against you because of race or accent and that we would be observing to assure that the letter production was correct and that no corrective action was required of you unless you received feedback to that effect.  It is our job to assure that all teachers are teaching the students the correct sounds for all letters during phonemic awareness lessons.”  First, just because Principal Harold states that “we were not discriminating against you because of race or accent” hardly makes her denial true.  After having taught for nearly two decades with nary a criticism of her ability to produce “correct sounds for all letters during phonemic awareness lessons,” why would she suddenly be threatened with “corrective action” for producing incorrect sounds?  Second, Ms. Thomas never complained that she was being discriminated against based on race.  Her concern was discrimination based on national origin, something that APS states it does not do.  (I would assume your Department does not discriminate based on national origin either.)  Now, for Principal Harold to mention race begs the question of whether Ms. Mote, a Caucasian, did discriminate based on race.  It leaves an air of racism at the very least in that the concern for Ms. Thomas’ ability to produce phonemically-correct sounds for her students “did stem from the presence of your [Ms. Thomas’] accent….”  If Ms. Thomas were a white Trinidadian, would Ms. Mote have had the same concern?


     Third, the intense, swift response to Ms. Mote’s specific statement of concern about Ms. Thomas’ accent interfering with her ability to produce “correct sounds for all letters during phonemic awareness lessons” underscores the notion that discrimination based, at least, on national origin occurred.  On the day following Ms. Mote’s conversation with Principal Harold, another teacher was sent to Ms. Mote’s room to conduct the phonemic awareness lessons.  Ms. Thomas was not told of this beforehand and was professionally and personally insulted when her peer appeared in the room to instruct Ms. Thomas’ students.  In fact, Ms. Thomas reports that the other teacher mispronounced many sounds during the lesson, but, since the other teacher has an “American” accent, having been born in the States, I guess she was a safer choice for the phonemic awareness lessons than a decades-plus veteran teacher of Caribbean Canon who holds a Specialist’s Degree. 


     Fourth, Ms. Thomas did file a complaint with the Office of Internal Resolution (OIR) of APS.  The manner in which Principal Harold handled this complaint lends credence to the notion that Ms. Thomas was discriminated against.  On November 9, 2006, OIR had scheduled a meeting with Ms. Thomas at Heritage.  Ms. Thomas dutifully told the front office secretary at 10:45 a.m. to expect an OIR investigator who was to arrive at 11:00 a.m.  At 11:15 a.m., the investigator met with Ms. Thomas and supposedly told her that no one would allow her into the school until she had called the County Office and had them call the school to inform them that she, the OIR investigator, was indeed trying to enter the school for a scheduled appointed with Ms. Thomas.  Ms. Thomas states that the investigator was “put out” with her treatment by the school and that the investigator, in response to Ms. Thomas’ query as to whether her speech was understandable, replied that Ms. Thomas spoke in a manner that was easy to understand.  I can vouch for that, too, and add that Ms. Thomas’ command of English impressed me.  Her accent enriched her masterful use of vocabulary as well as her varied syntactic constructions.  I very much enjoyed speaking with Ms. Thomas and cannot understand how Ms. Mote would ever believe, much less opine to Ms. Thomas’ immediate supervisors in the school, that Ms. Thomas could not and was not providing “proper sound production modeling.” 


     I encourage you to intervene in this matter.  Hopefully, Ms. Mote has not caused such strife in other non-native certificated first grade teachers in the State.  We need teachers of all types, whether native-born or immigrants, but we do not need State Department “officials” denigrating non-native certificated teachers for their national origin.  Perhaps some sort of sensitivity training would be in order for Ms. Mote.  I would suggest an apology should issue from her to Ms. Thomas, as well as a letter from Ms. Mote to Principal Harold encouraging the latter to remove all documentation pertaining to this pathetic event from Ms. Thomas’ file and to cease and desist from any and all actions that serve to demean Ms. Thomas as a valued professional who cares for her students and earnestly desires to teach them in the highly-effective manner that she has done for decades.                 






                                                                        John R. A. Trotter, Ed.D.,J.D.



Copy:  Superintendent Beverly Hall, APS

          Ms. Celine Thomas

          Mr. J. Anderson Ramay, Jr., Esq., MACE

HomeMagazineHighlightsLion's Roar!MACE TVLegalThe "NI" ListPicketsTestimonialsArchiveLinksMembershipJoin Now!

Enter content here