Lee’s Summit teacher who used N-word will keep his job

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LEE’S SUMMIT, Mo. — An embattled Lee’s Summit teacher will keep his job after using the N-word as he punished a student and the reactions to the decision are varying in many ways.

The Lee’s Summit R-7 School District’s Board of Education voted 5-2 not to terminate Joe Oswald. He is a physical education teacher at Pleasant Lea Middle School. He also is an assistant football coach at Lee’s Summit High School and boys’ track and field head coach at Pleasant Lea Middle School.

Oswald has been with the school district for 27 years.

During a hearing last month, Oswald said he was walking a student from the lunchroom to the office at Pleasant Lea Middle School on May 6 after she said the N-word.

Lee’s Summit Schools has teachers fill out green slips with details on what students did wrong. Oswald said he always reads it to students so they understand why they’re facing discipline, and was trained by the district to do so. He argued that since the student used the N-word, he did too.

Other teachers testified during Oswald’s hearing that they were trained the same way and would handle the situation exactly like Oswald did.

In it’s decision, released Friday, the Lee’s Summit School Board said it “unanimously believed” that Oswald exercised poor judgment in the way he handled the disciplinary situation involving the student and racial slur. The board pointed out that Oswald should have known that using certain words can be harmful and that there were other ways he could have handled the situation.

That said, the board ultimately determined Oswald’s acts did not meet the standard for termination under Missouri’s immoral conduct law. Board members said the standard is a high one, and requires proof that a teacher knew conduct is wrong at the time.

The board continued, saying that given the unique circumstances and substantial evidence “of an allegedly
sanctioned practice to read back a student’s exact words when processing disciplinary referrals—
the Board cannot conclude that Mr. Oswald in fact knew his use of the word in this particular
situation was wrong.”

Some guests at the rally said they understood what Oswald did.

“I taught in the school district for 31 years,” Mike Spiegel, a retired Lee’s Summit teacher, said during the Wednesday rally. “And for 31 years we were supposed to write it down and then we were supposed to confirm with the student that it was correct,” Spiegel said.

Parents in the district say they’ve been paying attention. December Joyce’s older son will start attending middle school in the fall.

“I’m not saying that black children should be able to use it in school. I think that is wrong. And the way he may have been reprimanding a child for using that word — I do understand him doing that,” Joyce said. “But I don’t think that him using the word helped the situation at all.”

The board also wrote in their decision that in no context is the use of slurs acceptable for teaching staff, which somewhat cuts against the decision they made.

The board said a review of policy and procedures will be conducted now that Oswald’s case has been resolved.

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