After 11 of the 13 residents who spoke during the public agenda at last week’s work session called for the teacher who used the N-word to be fired, the Muscogee County School Board at Monday night’s meeting continued its discussion of a proposal to establish a “zero tolerance” policy against racial slurs.
District 2 representative John Thomas made the proposal in the wake of the Muscogee County School District announcing Sept. 29 that the Reese Road Leadership Academy teacher who admitted to using the N-word on Sept. 1 had been suspended for two days without pay, reassigned to an undisclosed non-classroom position, issued a letter of reprimand that was placed in her personnel file, and required her to attend “cultural competency” training.
MCSD has said its investigation found that the teacher used “a racial slur in an attempt to explain to a group of elementary school students that this same word should not be tolerated.”
Here is the text of Thomas’ proposed policy, introduced and debated during last week’s work session:
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“The Muscogee County School Board believes that all students can learn better in a safe school environment. Behavior that infringes on the well-being of students will not be tolerated. The Muscogee County School Board thereby adopts a prohibition against communication of racial slurs, either verbal or written, by all district employees in all classifications of employment.
“This prohibition will not extend to the instructional and classroom use of historical or literary works which include racial slurs, but any teacher employing such instructional material must give prior notification to the school principal of the intent to use it and obtain acknowledgment that the material will be presented and discussed in order to establish an educational context for its use in the classroom.
“Further, the prohibition against racial slurs extends beyond the classroom to every department and job description in the district; the prohibition is a system-wide, whole workplace, all-inclusive ban of racial slurs in the Muscogee County School District regardless of job, department, or intent.
“Such prohibition shall be included in the Personnel Handbook for all District employees and be included in the Student Code of Conduct for all schools within the school system.”
Thomas said during Monday night’s meeting that, after conferring with board policy committee chairwoman Kia Chambers, MCSD human resources chief Kathy Tessin and Melanie Slaton, one of the lawyers from the board’s legal counsel, Hall Booth Smith, he agreed to add to his proposed policy a definition of “zero tolerance” for the way it would be implemented in MCSD: Employees who communicate a racial slur will be subject to “review for termination.”
This addition addresses the concern that an unsubstantiated allegation could result in someone being fired, Thomas said. So he resubmitted his proposal with that amendment, and it is expected to be up for a vote at next month’s meeting.
Chambers, the nine-member board’s vice chairwoman and lone county-wide representative, called the addition to Thomas’ proposal a “happy medium” between “zero tolerance” and unfair dismissal. The policy would require the human resources department to investigate such an allegation.
“If there’s a racial slur used in the classroom, they will have to sit down with human resources,” Chambers said. “Their job is on the line.”
Chambers added, “The word ‘review’ is going to be key, and I ask each board member to take that into consideration before we vote on it next month.”
The proposed policy sends “a very clear and concise message a racial slur has no place in the classroom because we are training tomorrow’s leaders,” Chambers said. “Our kids are watching us.”
Chambers noted, “It’s important that we talk about cultural sensitivity. Human resources is working on building that capacity. We see the need, and we will fill the need.”
District 7 representative Cathy Williams asked whether this proposal would replace or be alongside existing policies that address this issue. Chambers said MCSD has “four or five” policies that apply. Board chairwoman Pat Hugley Green of District 1 said all related policies will be given to board members so they can read them side by side and be prepared to further discuss the proposal at next month’s work session, the week before they vote.
District 5 representative Laurie McRae asked for legal counsel to review the proposed policy to ensure it doesn’t create an opportunity to sue the district for violating the Fair Dismissal Act. Chambers said she and Thomas did discuss that concern with legal counsel, which determined that the proposal doesn’t negate due process for tenured teachers.