The Oneonta City* School District is investigating allegations that a middle school history teacher flipped off and screamed obscenities as he drove by several dozen local residents gathered in Muller Plaza on Sunday, April 18, to protest the April 6 officer-involved shooting death of 23-year-old Tyler Green.
At least three former students identified Pete Casola, listed on the district website as a middle school social studies teacher, as the man driving west on Main Street in a pickup truck during the demonstration.
“Growing up as a Black girl in a town like Oneonta, NY is difficult,” Sierra Sangetti-Daniels wrote in an April 19 Facebook post. “It’s the sort of difficult that normalizes the Oneonta Middle School history teacher Peter Casola driving past the few protesting for justice and accountability and choosing to give us all his middle finger … with his young son sitting in the front seat in his pickup truck.
“It’s the sort of difficult that makes you want to post a Facebook status to challenge Peter Casola’s ability to empower students to become active participants in a changing world, a mission statement published on the school districts website.”
District Superintendent Tom Brindley confirmed the investigation in an April 19 email and said that “the district is not in a position to comment on personnel matters.”
A landline number listed for Casola in the phone book was reported to be a wrong number. A Monday evening request for comment to his school email address was not returned by press time.
“I’m ashamed to say it, but for years I used to repeat that the Civil War wasn’t caused by slavery, but because of states’ rights. That’s what I learned in his class,” said a former eighth grade student of Casola’s. “As I grew up I realized this was horribly and gravely incorrect, but I still didn’t imagine that it came from an evil place when it was out of the mouth of one of the teachers we looked up to. I guess I was wrong — just because someone is a teacher to young students doesn’t mean they have a problem touting racist ideology. This is exactly how bigotry and hatred spreads. I’m so sad to hear someone among our many amazing teachers in Oneonta feels it’s appropriate to act on his racist feelings in such a hateful way.”
In a joint statement, Oneonta NAACP President Lee Fisher and Vice President Michelle Osterhoudt said: “We are disheartened to hear of the allegations that an Oneonta City School District teacher drove by the demonstration in Muller Plaza on Sunday, yelling obscenities and flipping off the crowd. We and the NAACP support the right to peacefully assemble. Additionally, while people have the right to disagree with the demonstrators, it is important that those who work for the OCSD remember that while they are entitled to their opinions, they represent the district and their actions reflect on their competency in the classroom.”
Otsego County Board Rep. Jill Basile, D-Oneonta, whose son is a third-grader at Valleyview Elementary School, said she was “disappointed, angry and sad” to hear of Casola’s reported behavior.
“Our community and our school district have a lot to work on, and I’m here for it,” she said. “I have no reason *not to believe what is being said. It’s important to listen to Black voices and know that their lived experiences are different than ours.”
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.
*Edited at 1 p.m. April 20, 2021, to fix quote.
**changed at 6:36 p.m. April 20 to correct district name.