See the update at the end of this article.
MacDonald Middle School physical education teacher Dennis Petrowitz used the N-word while interacting with sixth grade students on Wednesday, May 10, during his fourth- and sixth-hour classes after an incident involving students using the same racial slur.
Petrowitz addressed the matter and issued an apology today in an email to middle school students and families.
ELi first learned of the matter on Friday, May 12, from a submitted anonymous tip. The tip included a copy of an email sent by MacDonald Middle School Principal Amy Martin and was addressed to families of sixth-grade PE students in Petrowitz’s fourth- and sixth-hour classes.
In the email, she said, “I am deeply sorry for the events that took place during yesterday’s PE classes. This letter is to inform you all of a matter that occurred during the 4th and 6th hour classes and our steps moving forward to address this matter.”
After receiving the anonymous tip, ELi reached to Superintendent Dori Leyko to establish the authenticity of the email. Leyko did not respond until today, confirming the email was real.
In the email, Martin went on to explain that Petrowitz first used the racial slur while addressing sixth graders in his fourth-hour class. Petrowitz called for administrative assistance for behavioral issues during that class period. He claimed the students were using the word when addressing each other and said they should not do so – but used the word himself while interacting with the students.
In her email, Martin said she told Petrowitz “that word was never to be used by any student or adult no matter what the situation may be.” After the incident, Petrowitz continued teaching his classes.
Later the same day, during sixth hour, Petrowitz again called for administrative assistance. This time, he was upset by the students’ understanding of what happened during the fourth-hour class.
In her email, Martin said at that point she gave Petrowitz the option to continue teaching or go home for the remainder of the day. Petrowitz decided to leave and Martin taught the rest of his sixth hour – the last hour of the day.
The day after the incident, Martin and Restorative Practices Facilitator Adeline Alderink led a restorative classroom circle discussion for the fourth- and sixth-hour classes to give students a chance to process the event and voice their thoughts. According to Edutopia, an organization founded by filmmaker George Lucas, restorative circles are a way educators can help students “process their thoughts and feelings so they can better handle their situations and be more present in class.”
Martin’s email said the school will look to hold Petrowitz “accountable in ways that deepen his understanding about the impact of his actions on the students.”
Leyko did not address a question posed as to whether or not Petrowitz has returned to teaching. She said the district’s human resources department, the diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice department, and building administration are working together to determine a response to the matter.
Petrowitz addressed the incident in an apology sent to parents late Tuesday afternoon.
“I take full accountability for the harm my actions have caused to students, staff and families, especially those of color,” the apology reads. “I understand that the use of the N-word is wrong and have no intentions of ever doing so again.”
Petrowitz said he will be having restorative conversations in all his classrooms with a trained facilitator and ELPS staff. He will also undergo racial justice, anti-racism and implicit bias training this summer.
The anonymous tip included other details about Petrowitz’s alleged behavior that is not outlined in Martin’s email or his apology. ELi is working to establish whether those details are accurate.
This is a breaking story. Anyone with information on this matter can contact reporter Luke Day at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update, May 18, 2023: Principal Martin sent an update to MacDonald Middle School families this morning saying that Petrowitz is now on administrative leave following “Restorative Circle discussions in each class where students were provided a safe space to share their comments and feedback.” A “guest teacher” is taking over his classes.