BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Teachers of the Year from well over half of U.S. states, including the 2021 National Teacher of the Year, have signed a joint statement condemning alleged discrimination against Sabrina Suluai-Mahuka, American Somoa’s Teacher of the Year, at the Huntsville International Airport.
The statement, signed by over 40 acclaimed educators from Alaska to North Carolina, began with a narrative of events that occurred Monday when several Teachers of the Year recipients were departing Alabama following their attendance at Space Camp in Huntsville.
“On July 26, 2021 at approximately 4:10 pm, two of our Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) State Teachers of the Year approached the American Airlines counter to check-in for flight 5113 scheduled to depart at 7:01 pm,” the statement read. “After learning the scheduled flight was canceled, instead of being accommodated for the inconvenience, two of our AAPI Teachers of the Year were met with blatant acts of discrimination by American Airlines representatives.”
“Only a few minutes apart,” the statement continued, “met by the same American Airlines representatives, a white male 2021 Teacher of the Year received immediate and all necessary accommodations without request.”
The statement characterized American Airlines’ actions as “blatant acts of discrimination and racism.”
“As the 2021 State Teachers of the Year,” it concluded, “we stand in solidarity with our Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Teachers of the Year, and we condemn and all acts of discrimination and prejudice towards others.”
The statement was circulated for signatures by Alabama’s Alternate Teacher of the Year, David Dai, who is Vietnamese-American. Dai attended Space Camp in place of Andrew Jackson, Alabama’s Teacher of the Year, who could not attend due to a scheduling conflict. Jackson also signed the statement.
Dai said he felt a show of solidarity by Teachers of the Year was necessary.
“As a group, we all felt like we needed to come together in solidarity and really condemn these acts of discrimination, prejudice, and racism towards our AAPI teachers of the year,” Dai said.
Suluai-Mahuka said she appreciates the show of support by her colleagues.
“When the other State Teachers of the Year told me they would be behind me 100%, supporting me through this fight, I believed them, but I did not completely grasp how supportive they would be,” Saluai-Mahuka told CBS 42 Thursday.
“For them to share this statement for me, it just speaks of the solidarity they are willing to showcase, especially for people of color [who signed on],” she said. “I am so grateful for them putting themselves out there for me.”
After CBS 42 published an initial report on the events that occurred in Huntsville, American Airlines reached out to Suluai-Mahuka, apologized for her experience, and offered to reimburse her hotel-related expenses.
In a statement sent to CBS 42 on Wednesday, the airline said they were “deeply concerned” about the allegations and are conducting an investigation.
Dai and Suluai-Mahuka both said, though, that money is not their primary concern.
“This is about American Airlines fixing a policy,” Dai said. “When it’s obviously clear that certain types of people are receiving preferential treatment over others, then that is something that needs to be fixed.”
The Council of Chief State School Officers, the organization which runs the National Teacher of the Year program, released a statement on the issue on Aug. 5.
“As the organization that runs the National Teacher of the Year Program, the Council of Chief State School Officers cares deeply about the safety and security of these outstanding educators and is troubled by any instance in which an educator feels unsafe or has been treated unfairly,” the statement said. “CCSSO is proud of the State Teachers of the Year who have spoken out against discrimination, and we will continue to support and work with educators to lead with equity and create more equitable opportunities for all students and educators in the future.”
Teachers of the Year from the following states and territories have signed the joint statement: Alabama, Texas, Minnesota, South Dakota, Connecticut, Ohio, Louisiana, Idaho, New Mexico, Colorado, Virginia, California, Illinois, Wyoming, Washington, New York, Northern Mariana Islands, North Dakota, Kentucky, Utah, Vermont, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, Arizona, Alaska, Nevada, Guam, Maine, Georgia, Iowa, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, Nebraska, Maryland, Tennessee, and South Carolina.
This article was updated on Aug. 3 to reflect an increased number of educators who have signed the joint statement. It was updated on Aug. 5 to increase this number once again and to include a statement from CCSSO.