In a fleeting moment of frustration, “the devil” — and not deep-seated racial prejudice — prompted a Georgia high school principal to make racial remarks at a graduation ceremony.
That was according to TNT Academy Principal Nancy Gordeuk, who stepped forward last weekend to apologize after she was captured on video condemning people for exiting the private school’s commencement early by saying: “Look who’s leaving … all the black people.”
Her comments sparked an immediate uproar, with people in the crowd angrily approaching the podium and exiting the ceremony in protest. When video of her remark went viral, it provoked even more outrage as people all over the country called for her resignation.
And now, Gordeuk has been fired by the Stone Mountain school she founded, according to Atlanta NBC affiliate WXIA:
Heidi Anderson, chair of the board of directors at TNT Academy, wrote in a letter sent to the Gwinnett County NAACP that the board voted to dismiss school director Nancy Gordeuk.
WXIA then quoted the letter:
In light of recent events, the board of directors of TNT Academy has moved to dismiss Nancy Gordeuk as principal. During the coming transition, we will continue to prioritize support for our most recent graduates. Moreover, we will continue our commitment to providing students with the best educational classes, transcription services, and academic credit recovery possible.
The Georgia NAACP sent the message to The Washington Post late Thursday morning, along with a statement saying that the organization “applauds the immediate actions of the TNT Academy Board of Directors to terminate employment” of Gordeuk.
“This is not just about Mrs. Gordeuk’s comments. The NAACP would defend Mrs. Gordeuk’s right as a private citizen to free speech,” Francys Johnson, state president of the Georgia NAACP said in the statement. “However, those entrusted with responsibility for our children must set a high standard marked by civility. That is obviously a test the former principal failed.”
Attempts to immediately reach officials from the school were unsuccessful Thursday morning.
Before Gordeuk’s firing, she was roundly criticized.
Donte Lambert, a TNT graduating student who was in attendance, told WXIA-TV that the incident began when Gordeuk dismissed everyone early, inadvertently skipping over the valedictorian’s speech.
“She forgot the final speech,” Lambert said. “So she dismissed us all at first. Then she told everyone to come back. One parent got mad and he told his child to come on,” Lambert said.
Video footage before the racial remark was made shows Gordeuk condemning the crowd’s behavior and calling an unidentified individual “a little coward” as the room grows increasingly tense.
In an interview with NBC News, Gordeuk mostly echoed Lambert’s account but referred to the crowd as “disruptive” when the school’s valedictorian was offered a chance to deliver his speech. She said she couldn’t bear to see the once-in-a-lifetime ceremony ruined.
“When I looked up, all I saw was black families leaving, and thus the comment,” Gordeuk told NBC.
Shakel Forman, Donte’s mother, told WXIA-TV she was unmoved by the principal’s explanation.
“She needs to get out of that field of being a teacher or a motivator,” Forman said. “She doesn’t need to be in that field at all.”
After her comments, Gordeuk apologized to the parents via e-mail, according to WXIA-TV.
“A terrible mistake on my part of the graduation ceremony on Friday night,” Gordeuk wrote. “The devil was in the house and came out from my mouth. I deeply apologize for my racist comment and hope that forgiveness in in your hearts.”
The full text of the apology circulated on Twitter, where it was met with skepticism.
Speaking to KABC-TV last weekend, a tearful Gordeuk reiterated her apology and said: “It was not a statement of racism. It was just my frustration.”
“I’m sorry it happened,” she added. “So sorry, but God has forgiven me, and we’ll just go on from there.”
On Saturday, Gordeuk’s son came to her defense on his Facebook page, posting his address and telling critics of his mother to come see him face to face.
“What was rude wad somone standing up during the ceremony and walking around with a tablet with somthing wrote on it that was rude now regaurdless my moma not racist one bit she’s done nothing but help kids so yall need to get stories straight,” he wrote, prompting numerous responses.
One hour later, Gordeuk followed up with a second post repeating the invitation, but this time including a racial epithet.
[This post, originally published on May 10, has been updated.]