Ex-Teacher Says Woke L.A. Prep School Was Actually Hotbed for Racism


A Black teacher in Los Angeles is suing the private prep school she used to work for, claiming her contract wasn’t renewed because she spoke out against racial discrimination at the institution, including being told to “go back to Africa” by a colleague.

In the lawsuit filed Dec. 12, Tiffany Wright accused New Roads School in Santa Monica—which costs more than $43,000 a year to attend—of fostering a hostile work environment, failing to prevent harassment, and wrongful termination. In turn, Wright seeks compensation for punitive damages and a trial by jury.

“As is true with many organizations that project a certain image or identity… New Roads was completely different from what it claimed to be,” her lawsuit alleges. “At the School, Plaintiff experienced almost the exact opposite of anti-racism, being confronted with absurd and offensive comments like ‘go back to Africa.’ When she complained about this and the overall racism she had experienced, she was ignored, shunned, told to shut up, ‘eat shit,’ and was even threatened by the School’s administrators.”

According to the complaint, Wright began teaching at New Roads in 2018 and was initially attracted to the role because of the school’s professed commitment to diversity. On the school’s website, New Roads vows to “liberate young individuals through the pursuit of justice, equity, and opportunity; rais[e] generations of powerfully compassionate advocates in an intellectual habitat driven by authentic diversity—ultimately [empower] them to disrupt systems that produce inequality and build a more just future.”

New Roads boasts that 40 percent of its teachers are of color, 45 percent of students are of color, 28 of board members are of color, and that it’s “a school that mirrors the socio-economic, cultural, and racial diversity of Los Angeles, New Roads students are challenged daily to question their own worldview, assumptions, perspectives, and righteousness.”

“We are inspired by the promise that our students represent for the future of democracy,” the school states. “Authentic diversity must start at the top. When an institution is committed to being a place that represents the voices and experiences of everyone in the community, it must lead by ensuring a diversity not only of students, but of leadership, administration, and faculty.”

But Wright found the school never lived up to its own mission statement, according to the lawsuit.

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The former New Roads teacher said she eventually saw unequal treatment of teachers and students depending on their race. Wright alleges that a white, male co-worker told her to “go back to Africa” in September 2019, but said no action was taken against him because an administrator said the colleague “didn’t really mean it.”

Wright also alleged that parents who paid full tuition were mostly white and many made large donations, giving them the power to dictate the operations of the school, including deciding which teachers would keep their jobs and which students were disciplined, the lawsuit says. Meanwhile, the complaint also states that students who were on scholarship—and lacking power—tended to be of color.

“The School was cognizant of this differential treatment based on race and still encouraged it, pressuring teachers to take better care of the full-paying white students,” Wright alleges in the lawsuit. “The School also pressured teachers to appease and do whatever the parents of full-paying white students wanted, including changing their children’s grades and treating them better than any of the minority half-paying scholarship students.”

During a school town hall after the Capitol riots on Jan. 6 2021, Wright said her direct supervisor, the middle school director, gave a presentation on Shonda Rhimes to commemorate the filmmaker’s birthday. Wright claimed the director made a controversial statement during the demonstration, allegedly saying that Rhimes, who is Black, makes an effort to show that “all lives matter” in her productions.

According to the complaint, New Roads staff members took issue with the statement, which has been synonymous with critics of the Black Lives Matter movement. Teachers allegedly emailed their concerns to the school’s director of diversity, Mario Johonson, who led a Zoom meeting later in January to discuss the issue. During the conversation, Johonson, a gay Black man, said he had to “eat a lot of shit” when talking about diversity and suggested that other diversity leaders do the same. Wright said she refused to “eat shit” and tolerate racism, the lawsuit claims.

Along with racially insensitive statements, Wright said that in one school presentation on the word “laugh,” a photo of an ape was placed next to an image of Vice President Kamala Harris, which was “jarring and racially offensive to many students and faculty members.” (The lawsuit also shows that images of an Asian baby and white man were included on the same slide.)

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“Why is this still happening?” Wright said during a staff meeting in February 2021. “The excuses about not knowing are getting thin[,] especially when we have anti-racism workshops and assigned reading.”

Eventually, investigations were launched into the two presentations, which resulted in one teacher being fired and the other placed on administrative leave.

According to the complaint, the school’s diversity coalition was disbanded in April 2021. In May, Wright’s contract was not renewed for the following school year, and she told her students that a number of “bad things” probably led to her termination.

Ryan Hawley, New Roads’ associate head of school, allegedly found out that Wright had alerted her students that she would not be returning, and abruptly placed her on leave before the end of the school year to “keep [her] in [her] place.”

Neither Wright nor New Roads School immediately responded to requests for comment Monday.

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