Calif. Teacher Placed on Leave After Video Shows Her Wearing Headdress, Mimicking Native American Dance

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California teacher placed on leave after video shows her mocking Native American dance in headdress
California teacher placed on leave after video shows her mocking Native American dance in headdress

Akalei Brown/Instagram The teacher in the video mimicking the Native American dance

A California teacher has been placed on leave after a video was recorded and posted online showing her mimicking a Native American dance in class.

The Riverside Unified School District Administration confirmed the incident in a statement on Thursday, noting that they have placed the teacher, whom they did not identify, on leave as they investigate. The statement was also shared online by John W. North High School.

"A recording of one of our teachers has been widely circulated on social media," the school wrote in their statement. "These behaviors are completely unacceptable and an offensive depiction of the vast and expansive Native American cultures and practices."

"Her actions do not represent the values of our district," their statement continues. "The Riverside Unified School District values diversity, equity and inclusion, and does not condone behavior against these values."

The video in question first surfaced on Instagram Thursday by Akalei Brown, who said that a Native American student at John W. North High School filmed the clip during a math class. Per Brown, the student does not wish to be identified for safety reasons.

"We are constantly looked at as an afterthought, a mascot, less than human," Brown, a family friend, told NBC News. "And in this day and age, it's just time for change."

Brown did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

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In the video, the teacher can be seen wearing a headdress made of paper feathers as she dances and jumps around the classroom chanting "SohCahToa" — a mnemonic device used to remember the three main functions in trigonometry, sine, cosine and tangent.

Other videos that were recorded by the student captured the teacher seemingly praying to a "water goddess" and later referencing a "rock god."

"I hope that they do some reeducating and that they make sure that something like this never happens again to a Native student," Brown told NBC News.

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Several lawmakers, including California assembly member James C. Ramos — the first California Native American to be elected to the state Legislature — spoke out about the video in a joint statement.

"We fully condemn the actions that took place at John W. North High School earlier this week. The teacher's behavior was highly inappropriate and offensive," they wrote.

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"Just weeks ago, the state of California made ethnic studies a required course across California high schools. Unfortunately, for students of color, moments such as the one at John W. North High School are the few in which their heritage is represented in the classroom, despite how inaccurate and wrong they are," they added. "We need to ensure students learn about themselves in positive, accurate, and appropriate ways."

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As the investigation continues, the Riverside Unified School District Administration said they "are deeply committed to implementing inclusive practices and policies that honor the rich diversity of our district and the greater region."

"We will be working with our students, families, staff and community to regain your trust," they vowed in the final part of their statement Thursday.

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