NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A New York City public school teacher facing termination is speaking out, calling the charges against her a lie.
The case made headlines earlier this year when she was accused of stepping on students backs to demonstrate the atrocity of slavery.
Now, the Long Island woman is fighting back with a lawsuit, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported Wednesday.
“Being a teacher is all I ever wanted to be,” Patricia Cummings said.
Her name destroyed and her career in limbo, Cummings, in her first public comments, said a grotesque lie has become a living nightmare.
“I did my job, and now over a false accusation, my entire life is ruined,” Cummings said.
Suspended from teaching at Bronx Middle School 118 in January, Cummings was accused of traumatizing students in a lesson that sparked outrage. A student claimed she had black children in seventh grade social studies lie on the floor to demonstrate slave transport and then pushed her knee into a girl’s back and said, “See how it feels to be a slave?”
But Cummings claims none of that happened.
“The outrageous statement that I singled out black students and stepped on their backs was presented as fact when in fact it was fiction,” Cummings said. “When did we as a society revert back to the Salem witch trials, when you were guilty based on an accusation?”
What did happen, the 37-year-old teacher said, was an opportunity to teach empathy after a student snickered during her showing of a movie clip about the slave trade. Cummings said she asked for volunteers to sit on the floor as close as possible to demonstrate the discomfort of a slave ship.
Cummings said a teacher’s job is to help children internalize in order to learn.
City investigators interviewed witness students and another teacher, and dismissed corporal punishment charges, finding claims of physical contact were unsubstantiated. However, Cummings remains suspended because of a finding she acted with poor judgment.
That rationale is because the Department of Education says it, “does not ever encourage reenactments of historical events where students take on roles of victimized people.”
“We’ve begun the process of firing Ms. Cummings based on an investigation of this unacceptable behavior,” the spokesperson added.
Cummings is now suing the city, “for overreacting and precipitously reacting to this whole situation,” attorney Thomas Liotti said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Education called the lawsuit baseless.
“We’ve begun the process of firing Ms. Cummings based on an investigation of this unacceptable behavior and performance as an educator,” the spokesman continued in a statement sent to CBS2.