'I teach with my heart': Teacher pushes back amid slavery lesson firestormPosted: Updated:
A Westchester private school teacher who made international headlines after being accused of taking a lesson on slavery too far is defending herself, and she contends the controversy stems from a false accusation.
The firestorm ignited two weeks ago when a parent accused Rebecca Antinozzi, a fifth-grade teacher at the Chapel School in Bronxville, of staging a mock slave auction. The mother claimed that black students were placed in imaginary chains while white students bid on them.
News 12's Tara Rosenblum asked Antinozzi directly if she held a mock slave auction in class. "Absolutely not," Antinozzi replied. "It was a false accusation."
Antinozzi insists her goal was simply to bring history alive to a classroom of inquisitive students in a lesson on colonial America. She says they were reading about slaves being taken against their will.
"One of my students said, 'This is very unfair, how can they be taken against their will? Well, what do you mean, can you show us?'" Antinozzi says.
"I said, 'OK, how many of you are African-American?' They raised their hand," Antinozzi continues. "I said, 'OK, go line up the door for me please.' So they lined up by the door. I said, 'If you were living during this time, you would be treated unfairly and brought to the new world against your will, and forced to work. And basically what would happen is they would say, OK, let's bid $10, $20, $30, $40, $50 -- OK great, males sit down, you're working in the field; females, sit down, you're working in the domestic household.' -- And that was literally under two minutes."
Those two minutes have catapulted the elite private school -- and Antinozzi -- into crisis mode.
The teacher says she was initially put on indefinite leave with pay. "My principal called me and said that, 'We love you as a teacher, you're employed, we just want to defuse the situation, talk to the parents and you'll be back the classroom doing what you love,'" she says. "And unfortunately, that did not happen."
Antinozzi says she later got a call from her lawyer informing her that her position had been terminated.
"Teaching is not a profession for me -- it is my life," she says. "I teach with my heart, and anyone that knows me knows I have no ill intentions."
Antinozzi says support from the community has begun to pour in. She says she has over 50 references from parents, and some of them are now speaking out.
"She's not capable of something like that, based on the person that we know," says parent Rohan Harrison. "She treats all kids with respect, regardless of their skin pigmentation."
Antinozzi says support like that is now carrying through the most difficult chapter of her life.
In a statement, Chapel School Principal Michael Schultz said, "After review and deliberation, the Board of Trustees terminated Ms. Antinozzi's employment, effective March 12, 2019. This decision was made in accordance with the constitution and the bylaws of the Chapel School. A subsequent formal internal investigation has commenced to include meetings with parents, teachers and staff. With the support of diversity advisors and mental health professionals, a robust, long-term action plan has been simultaneously implemented to address all potential issues, and teach cultural competency and racial sensitivity."
Antinozzi has hired a lawyer and may file a lawsuit.