Students allege Kansas City metro teacher used racist slur, other comments in classes

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An investigation at Harrisonville High School found that a teacher used a racial slur, made comments about a Black student’s hair and referred to Martin Luther King Day as “Black Privilege Day.”

Three complaints were lodged against John Magoffin, a science teacher with the district since August 2012. The complaints were made by students in three different classes, Duane Martin, an attorney for the district, said during a public hearing Tuesday evening.

Magoffin was placed on administrative leave on April 20. He denied using inappropriate language during the hearing at the school, attended by about 100 parents and students.

Each side had the opportunity to provide opening statements and call witnesses.

High school principal Mark Wiegers testified for about two hours, saying that an AP biology student alleged that Magoffin used the n-word during a class conversation about rap music and skin color.

A student in Magoffin’s advisory class said he had an “odd obsession” with her hair, according to Wiegers. Students also claimed that Magoffin made disparaging comments about the Black Lives Matter movement and female students wearing leggings.

In a third incident, Magoffin allegedly called Martin Luther King Day “Black Privilege Day,” and said during a physics class that racism does not exist in the U.S.

Throughout the course of the school administration’s investigation, Wiegers interviewed several students who corroborated the allegations. However, some students said they did not recall Magoffin making offensive comments.

The school’s investigation concluded that Magoffin had used inappropriate language.

Magoffin’s attorney Jean Lamfers cross-examined Wiegers, and asked him if “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which includes the racial slur, was approved curriculum.

Wiegers said it was, but that it was used in the context of a literature class as a historical book which was “totally different” than the word being used in a conversation about rap music in a biology class.

Lamfers said her client was discouraging the use of the racial slur and that teenagers may exaggerate their claims.

Six students testified that Magoffin used inappropriate language in their classes.

About 4.5 hours into the hearing, Magoffin was sworn in and denied using racist language. He said questions about race came up during a lesson on genetics and a student asked about how to refer to other races.

Magoffin said he did not use the n-word.

“I genuinely have a hard time with that word,” he said. He also said he had no recollection of calling MLK Day “Black Privilege Day,” and denied the other claims made against him.

Shortly after midnight, the Board of Education announced it would continue the hearing despite objections from Lamfers. The hearing lasted nearly 12 hours, ending at about 4:40 a.m. Wednesday.

The board then went into a closed session to make a determination on Magoffin’s employment. In an email early Wednesday morning, a school spokesperson said it is uncertain when the decision will be announced.

The Star’s Bill Lukitsch contributed to this report.

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