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Citrus County teacher removed from classroom for racist podcast

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By Carly Zervis, Citrus County Chronicle

A Citrus County middle school teacher removed from the classroom after being outed as the host of a racially charged podcast has no record of suspensions or other disciplinary action by the Citrus County School District, an examination of her personnel file revealed Monday.

Dayanna Volitich, originally from Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, and in her second year as a teacher in the district, was hired in August 2016 as a middle school social studies teacher, the position she continued to occupy at the time of her removal.

According to a resume included with her employment application, Volitich earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Ohio State University in May 2014 and was pursuing a master’s degree in educational studies at Johns Hopkins University when she applied for a Citrus County teaching position in June 2016. The Chronicle was unable to confirm Monday whether she obtained the degree.

During her college years, she worked as an ACT/SAT test preparation tutor for Kaplan Test Prep in Maryland and as an assistant director for Huntington Learning Centers in Pennsylvania. None of Volitich’s former supervisors or references listed on her job application had responded to a Chronicle reporter’s request for comment Monday evening.

Janet Pribanic, chief operating officer at a Pittsburgh-based business analytics company co-founded by Volitich’s father, provided a reference letter for Volitich in which she acknowledged knowing Volitich since childhood and described her as dedicated, committed and mature.

“Dayanna’s compassion shown to family and extended family is so very admirable,” Pribanic said in the letter. “Her depth of character would be an asset to any school district’s classroom. Dayanna is an individual of quality character, and most notably, her integrity will demonstrate her commitment to her students, administrators, community, and peers.”

A former supervisor at Kaplan also provided a letter. Matthew Krul, who worked as a tutoring academics manager, described Volitich as “an authentic team player, an effective communicator, and a proven self-starter.”

While Volitich is not accused of breaking any laws, the Citrus County School District’s professional standards require that teachers “support the beliefs, shared vision, and mission adopted by the district.” That standard, the first of five in the district’s Instructional Evaluation System, also requires that teachers “respect students’ cultural, linguistic, and family background,” “maintain a climate of openness, inquiry, fairness and support” and “adhere to professional responsibility and ethical conduct.”

The school district opened an investigation into Volitich on Friday after being contacted by a reporter from the Huff Post inquiring about racist remarks Volitich made on the podcast and on Twitter under the alias Tiana Dalichov. On Sunday night, the district announced she had been removed from her classroom at Crystal River Middle School.

In an episode of her podcast, called “Unapologetic,” in which she interviews the wife of the founder of a media outlet described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as playing host to anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers, Volitich responds to her guest’s call for more people from “our side” to become teachers by revealing that she is one.

Volitich then says she is “getting a little bit more underhanded as to how, you know, I deal with it if students ask questions about a particular topic. I had kids asking about the government shutdown several weeks ago. I have kids that ask about North Korea and how everything’s going with that. I have kids asking about ISIS and Saudi Arabia, and all kinds of things, and they have honest questions. And I told them at the beginning of the year, I said, ‘If you have questions, I will answer you. I’m not going to give you a biased view of anything; I’ll give you the facts and you can make up your own mind. And I think that’s something a lot of teachers just don’t do anymore.”

“I’ve had a couple instances where, you know, parents were concerned,” Volitich continues. “I had one at the beginning of this year who emailed the principal over my head and basically, you know, told her ‘I’m worried that your teacher is, you know, she’s injecting political bias into her teaching,’ and the principal came to me and she was like, ‘I’m not worried. Should I be worried?’ And I’m like, ‘No.’ And she believed me, and she backed off, and I haven’t heard anything since.”

No record of complaints appear in Volitich’s personnel file — but they wouldn’t if no cause was found to pursue a full investigation, assistant superintendent Johnny Bishop said on Monday.

If a parent has a concern about a teacher, Bishop said, they usually take that concern to school administrators who then investigate at the school level. If they feel a full investigation by the district’s human resources department is warranted, they request one, he said.

“If they don’t feel there’s cause to move forward with HR, it stops there,” Bishop said. “Oftentimes when a parent brings something to administration, it’s a concern. If a parent wants to file a complaint without discussing it with school-level administrators, they go to district human resources.”

“If it’s a minor thing, we encourage them to work with site-level administrators,” said assistant superintendent Mike Mullen. “But if it’s major, or about an administrator, they may not want to have that conversation.”

Volitich did not respond Monday evening to email and telephone requests for comment by a Chronicle reporter. In a statement obtained by television station News Channel 8 on Sunday, however, she claimed her actions were satire.

“None of the statements released about my being a white nationalist or white supremacist have any truth to them, nor are my political beliefs injected into my teaching of social studies curriculum. While operating under the Russian pseudonym ‘Tiana Dalichov’ on social media and the Unapologetic Podcast, I employed political satire and exaggeration, mainly to the end of attracting listeners and followers, and generating conversation about the content discussed between myself and my guests. The views ‘Tiana Dalichov’ espouses do not pervade my professional career. As an adult, my decisions are my own, and my family has nothing whatsoever to do with my social media accounts or my podcast. From them, I humbly ask for forgiveness, as it was never my intention to cause them grief while engaging in a hobby on my personal time. All future questions about the current situation should be directed to my attorney. I cannot comment further, due to the ongoing school board investigation,” the statement reads.

However, in an episode of her podcast in which she interviews the author of a book purporting that cultures are genetic and hierarchical, Volitich seems to earnestly agree with her guest.

Speaking with Brian Hendrix, author of “The Genetic Roots of Culture: How Culture Results from Genetic Behavior” and who Volitich describes as “a friend of mine,” she agrees with the thesis put forth by Hendrix that culture is genetic — either “You build huts or cathedrals,” as Hendrix put it.

Hendrix continued, “I don’t like racists either, even though probably in the most technical sense of the word you could probably say I’m racist because I do believe that some races of people are inferior and superior — in certain ways. I would never say black people are, you know, crap people, they’re inferior at everything, but there are certain things certain races can do better. Asians are way better at math in the aggregate than white people … and white people build cultures better than Asian people or black people … and we can view it all throughout history.”

To this Volitich responds: “I think I would align myself similarly to your sentiment there. Like, I would pretty much say, yeah, OK, if believing that certain races specialize in certain things makes me racist then I guess that’s what I am, because I do share your sentiment there. Everything you’ve said, like, meshes perfectly with what, you know, I’m kind of thinking on the inside here.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Carly Zervis at 352-564-2925 or carly.zervis@chronicleonline.com. Chronicle Growth Editor Brad Bautista contributed to this report.