Katonga Wright, managing partner of the Wright Legal Group in Columbus, said during a news conference Friday that the former fourth-grade teacher at Reese Road Leadership Academy who used the N-word in conversation with three Muscogee County School District students should be fired immediately.
The teacher wrote in a statement to the district that she was using the word to make a lesson about race. She has been disciplined by the school district, which included a two-day suspension and reassignment to a non-classroom position.
Wright is representing Equisha and Nathan Frazier and Shunale and Kenneth Harley, the parents of two of the three girls.
The parents have been “deeply troubled and saddened by the fact that their little girls have had to go through this,” Wright said. “They have sought counseling because the children have been quite troubled by the behavior that they were subjected to at the school that day.”
Wright said she is “hopeful” that negotiations with the school district’s legal counsel will produce “some resolution to this matter, swiftly and without delay.” And that resolution, Wright said, is “nothing shy of a termination of this teacher. Their concerns are that these types of racial slurs or behavior toward young children in our community will continue if (the teacher) remains a part of Muscogee County School District.”
Although the teacher has been reassigned to a non-classroom position, “as long as she remains on the payroll, those types of behaviors are being condoned,” Wright said.
No lawsuit is pending, Wright said, but she noted that is an option if MCSD doesn’t fire the teacher, because “she has created a hostile, racially charged environment for these students. And, quite frankly, 9-year-old little girls shouldn’t be suffering from that type of behavior from the adult that’s in the classroom that they trust.”
The parents seek the teacher’s termination “to send a message to other teachers in our school district, our communities, in this country, that this type of behavior cannot be tolerated,” Wright said.
Wright called the “zero tolerance” policy against racial slurs proposed this week by Muscogee County School Board representative John Thomas of District 2 “a step in the right direction.”
MCSD announced Sept. 29 the following disciplinary action against the Reese Road Leadership Academy teacher who admitted to using the N-word:
▪ Suspension for two days without pay.
▪ Reassignment to an undisclosed non-classroom position.
▪ Issuance of a letter of reprimand, placed in her personnel file.
▪ Requirement to attend “cultural competency” training.
Also in the Sept. 29 news release, MCSD said its investigation of the Sept. 1 incident concluded Sept. 26 and 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. The teacher’s choice of language, though intended to teach a lesson about racial tolerance, was misguided. … A teacher should never use a racial slur or expletive in the course of teaching students not to use the same word. MCSD does not tolerate the use of racial slurs in any context.”
The teacher, in a statement to the district emailed to the Ledger-Enquirer on Sept. 29, recalled saying to the student, “If someone called me a white cracker, I would be offended. If someone called you a black n-----, that would be offensive. If someone called my biracial cousin mixed girl, that would be offensive.”
During the Muscogee County School Board’s meeting Sept. 18, the Fraziers urged the Muscogee County School Board to fire the teacher. They also gave a different version of what the teacher told their daughter.
Mr. Frazier said the teacher was responding to something that another girl directed at his daughter and told her in the presence of another black student and a white student, “At least she didn’t refer to you as a dumb, black n-----,” he said. “And I’m saying it exactly how she said it to my child.”
The Georgia Professional Standards Commission confirmed Tuesday that an ethics complaint has been filed against the teacher, and the Fraziers acknowledged Friday that they filed the complaint. The commission has the authority to sanction a certified educator in any of the following ways: warning, reprimand, suspension or revocation of teaching license.
“We’re not mean and evil people, so we’re sympathetic to what she’s going through,” Wright said of the teacher. “But, you have to understand, she has placed herself in this situation.”
Responding to the explanation that the teacher didn’t use the racial slurs to address any of the children, Wright said, “They weren’t directed in front of the class in a teaching moment to talk about bullying. They were directed at these little girls in response to another racial comment made by a student that she decided to inject some additional racial comments that left the children bewildered, upset, confused and very disappointed and frustrated with their teacher.”
Asked whether the teacher called the students those names, Wright said, “The effect on the children was that she was calling them these names.”
Bettina Davies, a network lawyer for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators and a lawyer with Cauthorn Nohr & Owen in Marietta, issued the following statement in response to the Ledger-Enquirer seeking the teacher’s reaction to the parents’ news conference:
“My client has been candid, forthcoming and apologetic about what she said in her classroom on Sept. 1 since the beginning. A thorough investigation was conducted by the school district. As a result of the threats and half-truths that have been perpetuated in social media and elsewhere, my client and her family are now under police protection. Here are the facts:
▪ “From Day 1, my client has acknowledged she made a mistake, and is adamant her intentions were pure. In an attempt to teach her students about the ugliness of racism, she used a racial slur to explain how hurtful words can be.
▪ “Immediately following the incident, my client offered to meet with the child who was offended and her family to apologize face to face and ask for forgiveness. They declined the invitation.
▪ “One of the girls involved in the incident recanted her original statement to school system investigators. Her second statement supported what the teacher told investigators.
▪ “Following Muscogee County School System’s detailed investigation and based upon their findings, my client was disciplined with a suspension of two days without pay. She understands the mistake she made and is committed to never do it again.
▪ “My client is highly regarded by parents and colleagues. Her only desire is to go back to what she loves: teaching the children of Muscogee County.”