The vice principal of a California middle school has been placed on administrative leave after he was caught on a student’s phone camera saying, “I just don’t like the black kids.” Joe DiFilippo, an 18-year vet of the Fresno Unified School District, is under investigation for the incident — and on Tuesday he was the target of a protest that had former students chanting, “I love black people,” and “Black power.”
A spokesperson for the district, Jed Chernabaeff, told Yahoo Parenting that the 18-second video, recorded by a student outside of the Scandinavian Middle School in Fresno and then posted on YouTube, was brought to the administration’s attention last week by parents who had viewed it. A “third-party investigator” is now collecting facts for the district, who will then “respond appropriately,” Chernabaeff says.
In the video, DiFilippo, who looks relaxed and is wearing dark sunglasses, is chatting with some students while one of them records the conversation (it’s unclear whether the vice principal knows if he’s being recorded or not). A student off camera asks him, “Who at this school do you not like?” while another asks, “All of us?” That’s when DiFilippo responds, “I just don’t like the black kids.”
While it was possibly said in jest, many are not finding it funny.
"That’s not a joke," Latricia Medley, the mother of a Scandinavian student, told ABC 30. “That’s not a very funny joke.” She added, “I think he should be fired.
Ann Frank, the mother of another student, told the Fresno Bee, “If he said it, he needs to be fired.” Some black students told the newspaper they had felt targeted by DiFilippo when it came to being disciplined.
Some commenters on YouTube, though, believe the controversy is much ado about nothing. “Obviously joking with the black kids,” notes one with the screen name ProteanView. “Tired ass, politically correct black folks who lie in wait to accuse everyone of racism will only make people walk on eggshells around blacks for fear they can’t make a joke or that they might accidentally offend them.” Another writes, “This is obviously a joke. Should he have said it, probably not. However we all say things we later wish we had not said. This man shouldn’t loose his job over something so trivial.”
But a report released in 2014 by the U.S. Education Department found that systemic racism in public schools is alive and well, with students of color getting more punishment and less access to experienced teachers than their white peers. The biannual survey, Civil Rights Data Collection, found that five percent of white students were suspended annually, compared with 16 percent of black students.
"This data collection shines a clear, unbiased light on places that are delivering on the promise of an equal education for every child and places where the largest gaps remain," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. "In all, it is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed."
Race-based jokes by administrators may not be the best route to get there. As Novella Coleman, staff attorney with ACLU of Northern California and a former teacher, told the Fresno Bee, “It is never appropriate for school staff who are tasked with educating our youth to say they do not like kids of a particular race.” She added, “School administrators and teachers’ attitude toward students of a particular race inevitably affects their expectations of students’ educational achievement and students’ access to equal educational opportunities.”