Of all the people who got in trouble for using racial slurs (usually the “n-word”)—and that includes NYT reporter Donald McNeil, who was fired for asking a student if someone else used the word—this case is the most bizarre and unconscionable. It happened in the Kansas City, Missouri area of Lee’s Summit, and was reported on June 24 by KMBC News. Click on the screenshot to read:
It is the peculiar circumstances of the word’s use that make this case both unique and completely unnecessary. The details are simple:
1). Teacher and coach Joe Oswald, who’s been teaching for 20 years, heard a female student using a racial slur (another teacher heard it as well). The slur isn’t specified, but I’m guessing it was the n-word.
2). Oswald took the student to the principal’s office and wrote up a disciplinary report on the student using the specified “green slip”. After Oswald wrote the report, he read it back to the student twice, also as specified, to ensure that the student heard what she was being accused of (and, I suppose, to contest any errors).
3). Another student overheard Oswald reading the report back to the offender and also heard the use of the slur. Apparently that student reported Oswald to school authorities for using a racial slur himself—twice.
4). The student was suspended. But now Oswald is in big trouble as well.
5). A nine-hour public hearing ensued, and the school is now trying to decide whether Oswald should be “retrained”, disciplined, or fired. As KMBC reports,
The student who said the racial slur was given an in-school suspension. The school’s human resources director recommended Oswald get training. Superintendent Dr. David Buck has recommended termination.
The district said Oswald should never have said the racial slur.
“The reason we are here tonight is pretty simple. A teacher has engaged in conduct that the administration believes is wholly inconsistent with that vision and those commitments, and more specifically, with your board of education policy,” the school district’s attorney said.
“He said it was never OK to use that word. It was condescending, derogatory — a word that should never be used. He was upset that she had used the word. He was trying to be accurate. He’d been told to write down exactly what was said and that’s what he had done,” said Dr. David Carlson, executive director of human resources.
. . . . The school board will not render a decision immediately. The court recorder has until July 6 to give both sides a transcript of Wednesday’s hearing. The board then has seven days to meet in closed session and must publish their ruling within 72 hours.
This is absurd. Oswald did what he was told to do. Or should he have simply written the word and not spoken it? What’s the difference, anyway?
In a case like this, absolute accuracy of reporting is crucial, and that’s why Oswald read the report back to the student—twice.
Despite NYT executive editor Dean Baquet’s assertion that “intent doesn’t matter” when using racial slurs, and that the feelings of the listener are sufficient to allow punishment of the “offender”, racial slurs are regularly used in court testimony. And surely in this case intent DID matter, because without reading the word verbatim, the student could contest the report. The word was used not just didactically, but also quasi-legally, in a school hearing for punishment.
Now the teacher may be punished as well as the student. I hope to Ceiling Cat that Oswald not only isn’t fired, but doesn’t get any punishment. The school should really apologize him for putting him through this misery. Instead, he has to agonize for two weeks:
The school board will not render a decision immediately. The court recorder has until July 6 to give both sides a transcript of Wednesday’s hearing. The board then has seven days to meet in closed session and must publish their ruling within 72 hours.
Such is the country we live in. What a world! What a world!
h/t: Carbon Copy