During its monthly work session Monday evening, the Muscogee County School Board continued to debate a representative’s proposal to create a zero tolerance policy against racial slurs.
The board is expected to vote on the proposal at its monthly action meeting, which will be delayed by a week this month because of the Thanksgiving break. So the board’s next meeting will be Nov. 27 at 6 p.m.
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.”
But on Oct. 9, during last month’s work session, 11 of the 13 residents who spoke during the public agenda called for the teacher who used the N-word to be fired. Parents of two of the three children involved in the incident have retained a lawyer, Katonga Wright, who last month called for the teacher to be fired.
Wright and Equisha Frazier, the mother of one of the students, again spoke to the board on Monday. Frazier again disputed MCSD’s account of the incident, and Wright asked for MCSD’s response to the complaint Nathan Frazier, the father of one of the students, filed against the teacher with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.
The board’s debate Monday centered around whether existing policies already address the intention of the proposed policy and whether the proposed policy is clear.
Thomas insisted the addition of defining zero tolerance as “review for termination of employment” makes his proposal necessary. He said he is trying to establish a specific consequence for a specific act.
District 5 representative Laurie McRae said “review” is ambiguous. Does it mean review to determine whether a racial slur was said or to determine whether it rises to the occasion of termination?
Vice chairwoman Kia Chambers, the nine-member board’s lone countywide representative and the board’s policy committee chairwoman, said she added the word “review” so the human resources department has discretion and “still can do their job.”
Melanie Slaton, one of the board’s lawyers from the Columbus office of Atlanta-based Hall Booth Smith, said she examined policies of 11 school districts similar in size to the MCSD and found that none of them has a zero tolerance standard.
“We would be going further than other districts in the state,” Slaton said.
Thomas declared, “Muscogee County has the chance to lead the way on this.”
Chambers, a former teacher, said, “I can’t ever think of a time in the classroom when I taught that a racial slur was appropriate, or on the bus or in the cafeteria. We are molding and shaping tomorrow’s leaders, and we want to mold and shape them where this is not acceptable.”
Chairwoman Pat Hugley Green, the District 1 representative, emphasized the board doesn’t condone any racial slurs or derogatory language. The board is debating whether the proposed policy could be implemented as written in conjunction with existing policies, she said.
District 6 representative Mark Cantrell noted that, during last month’s public agenda, a resident used the term “white boy” while addressing the board. Cantrell asked whether that would be a reason for an employee to be dismissed.
“This gets real complicated and real close on a lot of lines,” Cantrell said.
McRae said she is in favor of sending a message against racial slurs but this proposed policy seems to be reactionary because it targets only racial slurs and doesn’t mention other categories of derogatory comments. She also expressed concern about teachers using books such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” in their classroom and risking using the racial slurs while discussing it with their students.
Students should be taught the “historical pain and suffering behind these words” — not just that they’re used “20 times in a rap song,” McRae said.
Chambers countered that the policy covers teachers using such words in an educational context. That paragraph in the proposal says:
“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.”