A white teacher who told a 13-year-old black student that he would be lynched if he didn’t focus on his work in class was placed on administrative leave but not fired in part because it was her first disciplinary offense in more than 22 years, the school district superintendent said Saturday.
Gail Kist-Kline, superintendent of Mason City Schools in Ohio, issued a statement (see in full below) saying, “In this case involving our teacher, the right thing to do is apologize, make amends, and take steps to be better.”
The incident, which gained national attention, occurred in Mason Middle School in December when social studies teacher Renee Thole told the boy, according to his mother, Tanish Agee-Bell, that if he didn’t stop talking and get back to work, his friends would form “an angry mob and lynch him.” Thole admitted to saying it to the boy and apologized to the class, according to Kist-Kline’s statement.
Agee-Bell told reporters she wanted Thole out of the classroom, and a petition was posted on Change.org seeking her removal. But the superintendent made clear in her Saturday statement why she didn’t immediately fire Thole.
Thole is on administrative leave while an investigation continues, the superintendent said. Here’s the full statement:
Dear Mason City Schools Families,
This week, our school district was in the spotlight for a thoughtless and offensive remark made to an African American student. There’s no explanation or defense that would make such a comment appropriate in any setting. It was wrong. Racism is real in America, and we all have an obligation to fight it.
It is not lost on me that this comes as we prepare to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and his legacy of fighting for justice. Dr. King reminded us that, “the time is always right to do what is right.” In this case involving our teacher, the right thing to do is apologize, make amends, and take steps to be better. Once the teacher realized the gravity and impact of her statement, she apologized to the student. Later, the teacher publicly apologized to the entire class for her thoughtless remark.
The teacher is currently on administrative leave while we continue to look into all that has been reported. We’ve also formally reprimanded the teacher and placed a disciplinary report into her personnel file. This is the first and only time the teacher has been disciplined in more than 22 years with our district.
Some have called for this teacher to be immediately fired and banned from ever teaching again. We understand and respect the passion of these viewpoints. The teacher has been disciplined. She is required to take further training to learn from this troubling mistake. And our school district will do more to help educators make their classrooms more inclusive and equitable by providing training on how to combat bigotry and bias.
Those of us who’ve dedicated our lives to educating others understand that everything that happens in and around a school is important because it involves our most precious asset; our children. We also realize that we must use even the most difficult moments as an opportunity to reflect, grow, and learn. On a daily basis, in classrooms around the world, people make mistakes, someone corrects them, and everyone learns from the mistake. The teacher made a racially insensitive remark. The student bravely stood up and called his teacher to account. The student could have reacted poorly and could have rightfully berated the teacher for her thoughtlessness. Yet, he extended grace to the teacher. The student is the hero in this story.
We recognize that we have much more work to do. We know we have ground to make up with those we’ve let down. We will not shy away from difficult conversations that may be hard and messy. We will continue to engage with our community on issues of racism and discrimination.
We appreciate those who challenge us to be better, and we are eager to engage in the work that ensures that all of our community’s children feel safe, welcomed and valued while in our schools.
Yours in Education,
Gail Kist-Kline, PhD