Kent responds to fallout over teacher’s racist tweets
A Kent elementary school teacher with a history of online bigotry and alleged verbal abuse was pulled from her class following a KUOW investigation into her misconduct.
But several community members say the teacher's reassignment within the district isn't enough.
The teacher, Rafaela Kayryakoff, most recently taught at Panther Lake Elementary School and was previously a first-grade teacher at Meridian Elementary School, where she was accused of verbally abusing students.
Kent School District Superintendent Calvin Watts said in a written statement Friday that Kayryakoff had been reassigned to “a non school-based position,” effective Monday. But many in the Kent community have said the district’s response isn’t enough.
“The message that the school district is sending — which is, 'It's okay to be racist as long as you do it on your off time’ — is not okay for anybody,” Sharonne Navas of the Equity in Education Coalition of Washington told KUOW.
Navas pointed to a tweet Kayryakoff wrote calling for violence against Mexican people, adding that “anybody in the school building or in the school district that actually believes Black and brown children should be removed or deported or killed … is just not someone that we need in the school district.”
Kayryakoff also tweeted disparaging remarks aimed at Muslims, Jews, and Mormons. Additionally, she wrote posts endorsing white supremacist movements.
Navas learned about Kayryakoff’s hateful rants after reading reactions to KUOW’s investigation on social media. But the public revelations about Kayryakoff’s behavior weren’t a surprise for some.
“It was discussed, you know, kind of behind the scenes,” said Lori Waight, whose two children graduated from the Kent School District. She moderates a private Facebook group dedicated to conversations about the district.
Waight lambasted district officials’ decision to keep Kayryakoff around students following an internal investigation into her conduct, which concluded last summer.
“[The district] had to address the community because the press exposed an issue that was occurring, that they tried to cover up,” Waight said. “It should have happened the first time — removing her away from students — because all they did in moving her to Panther Lake was they expanded her victim pool.”
The district determined that Kayryakoff had violated both the district’s race and equity policy and social media guidelines by posting tweets calling for Mexicans to be “genocided,” which she admitted to writing.
However, Kayryakoff denied that she meant for the remarks to be derogatory and equivocated when officials confronted her with other posts from her Twitter account, stating that she had family members with access to the account who could have written the tweets.
At the time, the Kent School District issued a letter of warning to Kayryakoff, prescribing her a review of relevant district policy and the completion of a diversity awareness training program. Additionally, the district’s investigation resulted in her being removed from her classroom at Meridian and reassigned to a P.E. position at Panther Lake.
For her part, Navas said she and the Equity in Education Coalition of Washington plan to support community organizing efforts surrounding the fallout.
“There’s some really good organizing from communities of color that's already happening,” Navas said. “And in Kent School District, those are the ones who are mostly affected by what's been going on.”
Watts said on Friday that Kent School District has not opened any new investigations related to Kayryakoff. No further updates were provided to KUOW at the time this story was published.