A Southern California school district placed a teacher on leave after video emerged of her in a feathered headdress and appearing to mock Native Americans in class, officials said Thursday.
Activists and students at John W. North High School in Riverside also protested outside campus, about 55 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, in the wake of the viral footage.
"A recording of one of our teachers has been widely circulated on social media. These behaviors are completely unacceptable and an offensive depiction of the vast and expansive Native American cultures and practices,” the Riverside Unified School District said in a statement. “Her actions do not represent the values of our district.”
The teacher has been placed on leave as the district investigates the matter further, it said.
The Riverside City Teachers Association, the union which represents the educator, pledged to defend the member's due process rights but said that conduct captured in footage was "inappropriate."
"While the educator may not have intended to cause harm, we are disappointed by the insensitive and inappropriate behavior recorded in one of our classrooms," RCTA President Laura Boling said in a statement.
"As the school district’s investigation proceeds, we will ensure that the district provides due process to the employee, and we will continue working with the educators and parents of Riverside to ensure that our schools remain safe and caring environments for all students and staff."
A student in class filmed the teacher's odd dance and mocking chants, according to Akalei Brown, a Native American scholar and a family friend of the teen's. Brown then posted the video on her Instagram, with nearly 23,000 followers, leading to the suspension and the protest.
"I just felt like I should put it out on my personal social media just to let the Native community know what was happening in Riverside before this got swept under the rug," Brown told NBC News.
Brown said former students of this teacher have told her this wasn't an isolated incident and that the instructor was long mocked Native Americans.
Still, the student who filmed the incident was worried about the teacher's condition, Brown said.
"The student is very concerted, actually, for the well being of the teacher. He's more concerned about her well being and he's hoping that she's okay," the activist said.
"He's actually said he was happy that it happened to him instead of another Native student who may have lower self-esteem, because we have the highest suicide rate in teens in the nation and so we're glad it happened to someone who was able to digest it instead of internalize it."
Riverside County has a Native American population of about 1.9 percent, which is larger than the national population of 1.3 percent.