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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Wilson Elementary teacher on leave in response to school newsletter item calling for students to dress as ‘slaves and hobos’ for jazz event

Spokane Public Schools announced the district is investigating a newsletter that was sent to parents at Wilson Elementary School, 911 W. 25th Ave., earlier this month.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The music teacher at Wilson Elementary School has been replaced at least through the end of the year after she was accused of writing a racist item in the school newsletter.

The teacher, Tamera Knapp, is on administrative leave as the district conducts an investigation into the incident from earlier this month.

On March 4, Wilson Principal Christina Admire announced that someone else would be teaching music “moving forward” and stressed that a “thorough investigation” was underway about the newsletter. A week later, Admire announced a music teacher replacement at least through the end of the year.

“Again, the content shared in last week’s school newsletter is unacceptable and does not align in any way with our values,” Admire’s letter to parents said. “It also does not reflect the professional judgment of the thousands of educators in SPS who have committed countless hours of training to become more culturally fluent and responsive.”

The newsletter in question was sent out early this month promoting a school event titled “We Haz Jazz!” that would have taken place on March 26. Shared with parents by the school, the newsletter invited participants to “take a trip from today, way back to the times of slavery in America,” writing that students could “dress as slaves, hobos, or ready for a night out to the jazz clubs.”

A Spokane Public Schools email address associated with Knapp, who taught at Wilson and Hutton elementary schools, was included at the end of the newsletter item that sparked the controversy.

Spokane’s NAACP said the apology “does not repair” the harmful impacts of the racist newsletter. On Wednesday, the organization held a community town hall discussing the incident and the broader impact of racism within Spokane Public Schools.

NAACP Spokane President Lisa Gardner said at the meeting that the community needs to hold Spokane Public Schools accountable for racism within the district.

“This is what community is about. It is about holding accountability. It’s time. We’re tired. We’re tired of talking about it. We’re tired of reading about it in the newspaper. It’s time to do something. It’s time to continue to hold the system accountable,” she said.

According to a biography on a district website, Knapp has taught music and band since 1994.

Through an individual who answered the door at her residence, Knapp declined to comment. The person who answered the door said she could not comment because the incident remains under investigation.

Scott Finnie, director of Eastern Washington University’s Africana Studies program and the executive director of EWU’s race and cultural studies program, said at last week’s NAACP meeting that the newsletter was an “episodic tragedy underlying a systemic cancer.”

“The first thing is to admit something’s really wrong and to have that voiced, have that put out in a public statement. And I think that is the beginning of it. After that, I think we have to look at what is systemically broken,” he said, while calling on Spokane Public Schools to do more to address racism within its institution.

Speaking at the NAACP event during audience questions, Mike Dix said his child was a student of Knapp. He argued that while discipline was in order, removing Knapp from her job at Wilson was overly harsh.

Dix said the “We Haz Jazz!” event might have been “misinterpreted” and Knapp should be reinstated to her position.

“Wilson and district leadership should have recognized the mistake, corrected it, disciplined it, learned from it and then moved on in a positive way. We should be teaching our kids that mistakes are made. Sometimes they can be corrected or not. And learn from them and move on positively. Overall, the Wilson community is sorry for the issue, has learned and should move on positively. Miss Knapp should be welcomed back to her position at Wilson as a music teacher,” Dix said to boos from other attendees at the meeting.

Responding to the parent, event panelist and Adams Elementary teacher Allie Campbell said what Knapp did was harmful, and it was correct to remove her from her position.

“When it comes to harming children, there’s no room for that. It’s not just harm for a day, and it’s not just harm for a week,” Campbell said. “We can’t make those mistakes. That’s a nonnegotiable. That means maybe you don’t deserve to be an educator. Being an educator is a choice that we’ve all made. There’s no room for hurting and harming a child. We have to be a district that puts our foot down with that.”

Fellow Spokane Public Schools teacher Natasha Carpenter said the Wilson newsletter was not an isolated incident and pointed to a 2022 incident when a Shadle Park High School teacher used the N-word in class.

“This is not just one school. When educators feel like they can say (the N-word) without any repercussions, there’s something going on in our district,” she said.