NYC substitute teacher suspended for allegedly sharing COVID-19 conspiracy theories to children

NYC substitute teacher suspended for allegedly sharing COVID-19 conspiracy theories to children
Bryan Ke
November 3, 2021
A substitute teacher in New York was suspended for allegedly sharing COVID-19 origin conspiracy theories and criticizing China’s communist party in front of fifth-grade students.
What happened: The incident reportedly occurred on Thursday when Peshe Schiller, 70, filled in for an absent teacher of the “Gifted and Talented” program at P.S. 204 in Bensonhurst.
  • Schiller told the New York Daily News she told her students that their parents left China because it is “a Communist country and they don’t have freedom… they wanted you to have freedom.” The majority of the students in the class — 24 out of 27 — are reportedly Chinese Americans.
  • According to the elementary school students, Schiller stated that all Chinese people are communists and that people who enter China end up dead.
  • One of the students also reported Schiller for sharing conspiracy theories about the origins of COVID-19 during their discussion about vaccines and the pandemic, where she reportedly claimed the virus was made in a Chinese lab.
  • “We were talking about how vaccines were developed and why, and this kid out of nowhere said, ‘The virus was produced by animals,’” Schiller said in her defense. “I said everyone has their own opinion, but I heard on the news that it was developed in a laboratory.”
  • Schiller also denied criticizing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s vaccine mandate and making a hateful comment against Filipinos by calling them “dirty.” The substitute teacher further stated she was already vaccinated even before the mayor’s order.
  • She suggested her students fabricated their stories because they were reprimanded for a past offense. She also denied all the allegations made against her. However, the students’ parents found Schiller’s words to be “​​insensitive and inappropriate for a group of elementary school kids.”
The aftermath: Schiller was reportedly pulled out of the program after a school staff member heard some students discuss the incident during lunch. The following day, school administrators had a guidance counselor speak with the students about what happened, Fox News reported.
  • “Hateful and racist behavior has absolutely no place in our schools and this substitute was immediately suspended and removed from our classrooms following this deeply disturbing allegation,” Katie O’Hanlon, a spokeswoman for the NYC Department of Education, said in a statement. “Schools must be safe havens and the school offered counseling and support to these students.”
  • Many from the AAPI community believe Donald Trump’s use of anti-Asian comments made during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the rise of hate crimes against Asians. A June poll found that 71% of AAPI adults blamed Trump for the wave of anti-Asian hate in the country.
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