Two teachers have left Cross Keys High School following complaints that they made anti-immigrant comments inspired by Donald Trump’s election. The teachers deny the allegations and say they are victims of “hysteria” or misunderstanding.
Meanwhile, DeKalb Schools has released its investigative report detailing allegations that the teachers, Diane Clark and Susan Petre, threatened students with deportation. Cross Keys is a school with a large immigrant population. The report alleges that Clark threatened to call immigration authorities on misbehaving students and that Petre touted her support for Trump and the need to “protect our borders.”
“There was hysteria among the students,” Petre said in a phone interview. “They accused me of being a racist. The opposite is the truth.”
Clark said in a separate phone interview that her official reason for leaving Cross Keys was retirement. She declined to comment further beyond saying she is consulting a lawyer. In the DeKalb Schools report, she denied threatening anyone and said she actually spoke in support of students.
Petre expressed shock in the interview that the DeKalb school system released the investigative report with her name included. She said she was told by school authorities her official record would only show that she resigned for personal reasons.
According to memos from the DeKalb schools Office of Legal Affairs, both teachers were given the choice to leave their jobs or be fired. Petre said in an interview she said she chose to resign due to the stress of being in the school after the complaints that, she stated, were lies.
“I chose to resign because the rumors so maligned me. This is a horrible injustice,” she said.
Both teachers also signed statements that said as part of their resignation and retirement they were no longer eligible to teach in the DeKalb County School District.
To view the full DeKalb Schools files on the complaints against both teachers and their responses, see the end of this story.
The investigation into Clark began Nov. 10 when a parent called the DeKalb school’s superintendent’s office and said her son told her that Clark told students if they continued to misbehave in class “she would be making a call to the Department of Immigration,” according to the memo from Principal Jason Heard to the DeKalb County Schools’ Office of Legal Affairs recommending Clark be terminated.
A statement from a student alleges that Clark on Nov. 9 told her class of a student from years back who asked for her assistance to not be deported. Clark allegedly said because she has a law degree she has to be honest to the judge and was able to tell the judge that the student was well behaved and did her work, so the judge ruled in favor of the student and the student “was able to stay in the USA with her family.”
Another student alleged the day after the election, Clark warned of Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] raids at the school. One complaining student said in the report that Clark’s comments appeared to be in response to Trump’s election. An October allegation from another student said Clark became angry with the class “and even turned red” when telling students to stop talking or she would call immigration authorities.
Clark denied any wrongdoing in a Nov. 11 statement to Heard and said she believed her students misunderstood her statements.
“During class that day (after the General Election), I repeated to each of my classes what I have said many times before. I stand with the students of Cross Keys High School and will assist them during this trying time for many of them as best I can,” Clark stated.
Clark said she told the students the best thing for students to do to avoid potential deportation was attend class regularly, study every day, participate in class discussions and ask questions.
“Several of the first period young men suddenly stated that I was frightening them. I replied I didn’t mean to frighten them, and that I was simply repeating what I had stated in the past. This is based on the fact that as recently as last year, I had been [sic] written statements twice to immigration regarding student performance at school,” Clark wrote. “In both instances, there were no problems because the students had excellent attendance, studied, and asked questions in class or at tutorial. One student barely spoke English, but we made communication between the two of us work.”
Teachers made several allegations against Petre the day after the election, with one teacher saying she heard Petre yelling at students “to get their ass to class.”
Another teacher said on the day after the election one of Petre’s students told her that Petre told her class that their parents are to blame for the “problems and fears” students have about deportations and also that it was their parents fault for deportation fears because their parents brought children illegally to the U.S.
A Nov. 11 statement from another teacher also alleges that Petre was cursing in the hallway in front of students and staff after a meeting with the principal. Other complaints were made anonymously and not confirmed by other sources.
Petre said in the interview she told students that undocumented people break the law by moving to the U.S., but she also told her students she would always advocate for them. In a written statement to Principal Heard, Petre said her intention was to reassure her students in the wake of Trump’s election that they or their families would not be immediately deported.
“What might have been misinterpreted was that I also stated we are a nation of laws and that undocumented people who came here broke the law,” Petre wrote in a statement to the principal.
Petre said that telling her students she was voting for Trump was a mistake.
“I should never have done that. All of this is based on the fact I was supporting Trump,” she said in an interview.
“I never made any threats. I taught them to advocate for themselves. The day after the election I told the students I would help them write a letter asking for amnesty. Amnesty was the word of the day. Then they spread horrible rumors about me,” Petre said in the interview.
Petre also said in the interview that she “never, ever threatened anyone with deportation. I said only criminals should be deported, period.”
Click below to read the DCSD file on Susan Petre:
Click below to read the DCSD file on Diane Clark: