DAHLONEGA, Ga. -- A local high school teacher at the center of controversy sat down with Channel 2 Action News reporter Linda Stouffer to discuss why she allowed several of her students to wear Ku Klux Klan-type outfits to school.
The teacher was suspended after her students wore the KKK outfits on campus for a class project.
Dozens of people attended a meeting about the incident Monday night.
The teacher, Catherine Ariemma, said it was never her intention to hurt or offend anyone. But activists said it was not good common sense to let several students wear white sheets and homemade pointy hats. And they are putting the Lumpkin County school district on notice.
“God, we know that it is not acceptable under any circumstances for students to be walking the halls dressed in offensive attire,” said the Rev. Markel Hutchins.
Hutchins blessed Dahlonega students at the community meeting Monday night. The students told him about their shock in the cafeteria Thursday.
“I (saw them) walking through the lunch room in white sheets, KKK attire,” said student Cody Rider.
Rider said he was outraged.
“Like, the white students, they were laughing about it, you know? They thought we were blowing it out of proportion. They don’t know the magnitude of the situation,” said Rider.
“I am heartily sorry for making anyone feel uncomfortable,” said Ariemma.
The U.S. history teacher told Stouffer that her students were in costume for a year-end film project and their intention was to teach about historical mistakes.
“This is a film about racism and we have to discuss racism in our society because if we don’t, we are condoning it. And I don’t cover it up. And you can’t discuss racism and not include the Klan and that’s what we were doing,” said Ariemma.
She is on paid administrative leave.
Stouffer asked her what she would have done differently. “I would tell the students that if you are going to film the Klan, do it on your own time and out of school,” said Ariemma.
“If there is any hesitation toward diversity training and cultural sensitivity then we’ll come back to this community and if that means we have to protest and march and go to jail and get in the streets, we’ll do that too,” said Hutchins.
Hutchins is calling for a meeting with the superintendent, political leaders, and the sheriff’s office. He is concerned about retaliation against the students who spoke out and said he doesn’t want the situation to escalate.
The last day of school is Friday.