A student recorded her teacher using a racist slur in class. Then she got suspended
When Mary Walton heard her teacher using a racist slur during geometry class last week, she took out her phone and started recording.
In a now-viral video, the teacher can be heard using the N-word two times before telling Mary, a sophomore at Glendale High School in Springfield, Mo., to put her phone away and go to the school’s office.
The teacher is no longer with the school district, and Mary, 15, was suspended for three days for violating the district's policy on using electronic devices.
Mary, who "bounded back to school Wednesday," is challenging the district’s disciplinary action, said Natalie Hull, an attorney for Mary and her family.
“We are hoping the school district will change their stance on refusing to expunge the suspension and issue her an apology,” Hull said.
On May 9, Mary began recording after the teacher, who has not been publicly identified, appeared to interject himself into a conversation among students, Hull said. It’s unclear what the conversation was about or how it started, but the teacher used the N-word approximately four times, and students asked him to refrain from using it, Hull said.
The video, which was shared with The Times, is about a minute long. It begins with the camera facing down toward the floor.
“I don’t like the word, at all,” says the teacher, who is white. “I don’t know, it feels like when a Black person is using it toward another Black person, it’s the same. How is it not still a derogatory word?”
A student responds, and there’s some back-and-forth between the teacher and students.
“Is the word … not allowed to be said?” the teacher says, using the slur. A student advises the teacher against going any further, telling him: “Don’t say it right now as a teacher if you want to keep your job. This isn’t a threat.”
Mary then pans the camera up to record the classroom, where the teacher is standing in between rows of desks. About half a dozen students and a few empty desks are in the frame.
“I am not calling anyone [an N-word],” the teacher says, repeating the slur. “I can say the word.”
At least one student gasps and covers their mouth, while another puts their head down toward their desk.
“Put your phone away,” the teacher tells Mary.
“No,” she responds.
“Go to the office,” he says, and the video ends.
Mary remained in the class, and the teacher went back to his desk and changed the topic, Hull said.
Mary sent the video to her mother, seeking advice on what to do, and to another student who was in the video so they could share it with their mother, Hull said. It’s unclear how it was posted on social media, Hull said, but it was circulating within the school community within about half an hour.
Stephen Hall, chief communications officer for Springfield Public Schools, said the teacher was placed on immediate administrative leave as an investigation was launched, and is no longer employed by the district.
It wasn’t until around 7 a.m. Friday that the school emailed and called Mary’s mother, Kate Welborn, to inform the family of Mary's three-day suspension. Hull would not discuss the details of the conversation Welborn had with administrators but confirmed that Mary had been suspending for running afoul of school policy by recording the video.
Hall declined to discuss specifics of Mary’s suspension, saying they were confidential, but referred to the student handbook. According to the policy, students are prohibited from using electronic devices to record, publish or display audio or visual images of faculty, staff or other students on school grounds without proper approval.
“Any consequences applied per the scope and sequence would also consider if minors are identifiable in the recording and what, if any, hardships are endured by other students due to a violation of privacy with the dissemination of the video in question,” he said, adding that officials are “confident that the district appropriately and promptly handled all matters related to what occurred" at the high school.
"We want our schools to be safe and welcoming learning environments," Hall continued. "When students have concerns, they should follow the appropriate steps for reporting.”
Mary and her mother would like to see the suspension removed from Mary’s record, and for the district to teach their students a bigger lesson by apologizing, the family's lawyer said.
“We're hoping that the school district … will take this opportunity to show their students how to acknowledge when they've made a mistake and how to apologize for it,” Hull said. “There's absolutely no embarrassment in that. Admit that you were wrong, apologize, and then it can help make things better in the long run.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.