High school student suspended after teacher’s racist lashing out

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A 15-year-old high school student in Springfield, Mo., was suspended for three days after recording a video of her teacher repeatedly making racist comments about black people, her attorney said Tuesday.

Glendale High School student Mary Walton, who is white, was in geometry class last week when her teacher used the slur four times, her attorney, Natalie Hull, said. Mary wasn’t sure how to react and then started recording a video of what happened to share with her mom and a friend to get their advice. The teacher then used the racial slur twice more.

Ms Hull said Mary did not post the video online, but it “circulated within the community within half an hour of it happening”.

The teacher, a man who has not been publicly named, was placed on administrative leave that day, May 9. Springfield Public Schools said in an email Tuesday that he was “no longer employed” by the district and that it had accepted a resignation letter from him.

The 56-second video, which Ms. Hull shared with The New York Times, begins with the camera pointing down to the floor and shows a desk, backpack and classrooms.

“I don’t like the word at all,” you hear the teacher say. “I don’t know. It feels like when a black person uses it against another black person, it’s the same thing. Why isn’t it still a derogatory word?”

A student responds, but the comment is muffled by other sounds in the class.

The teacher then says, “May the word” – he repeats the slur – “may not be said?”

A student says to him, “Don’t say it now as a teacher if you want to keep your job. This is not a threat.”

The video then shows the classroom, including the teacher, saying “I’m not calling anyone a” and repeating the slur.

He continues, “I can say the word.”

One student gasps and another rests his head on his desk. A third student, who covered his mouth when the teacher used the slur, then says, “Why are you saying that?”

The teacher then speaks to Mary and tells her to put her phone away. She says “no,” and he replies, “Then go to the office.”

Ms Hull said Mary and her mother were not informed of the suspension until 7am three days later on Friday, and she sought Ms Hull’s help to challenge the suspension and demand that the school apologize to the student. Ms. Hull said Tuesday was the last day of Mary’s suspension and the district had told them it would not apologize or change the sentence.

Mary is “having a hard time with all the attention”, said Ms Hull, and did not want to be interviewed.

Stephen Hall, a spokesman for Springfield Public Schools, said in an emailed statement that student discipline was confidential and that the district was “confident that the district is handling all matters related to what happened in Glendale appropriately. and handled quickly”.

He also pointed to the student handbook, which states that students are not allowed to use cell phones to make audio or visual recordings of teachers or staff in the classroom without permission from the school. Students violating these rules for the first time may face disciplinary action, which may include a parent meeting, detention, and a suspension of up to three days.

“Any consequences applied by scope and order should also consider whether minors are identifiable in the recording and what hardships, if any, other students may face as a result of a breach of privacy with the distribution of the video in issue,” Mr. Hall said.

“We want our schools to be safe and welcoming learning environments,” said Mr. Hall. “If students have concerns, they should follow the proper steps to report.”

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