A thought to be black and white issue now has more context to it which may muddy the waters.
Late last week the Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District (CFAUSD) placed a Chi-Hi teacher on administrative leave after a video from two years ago surfaced of the man using “offensive and inappropriate language;” the teacher was escorted out of the building hours after the video was brought to the district’s attention. The name of the teacher, the video and the context of the situation was not released at the time of the Thursday press release.
The same day a press release was put out by Michelle Golden, executive director of human resources and public relations for the CFAUSD, condemning the actions of the Chi-Hi teacher.
“The district takes this report very seriously and is conducting a formal investigation into this matter,” Golden said. “District policy prohibits discrimination, bullying, harassment and a variety of other conduct that often serves as a vehicle for racism and bigotry. We ask that citizens allow the district time to conduct a thorough investigation into this situation so that any conduct that violates our policies against discrimination, harassment, and/or bullying can be identified and addressed. Our top concern is for the health and safety of our students, as well as our District’s need to provide an educational environment that is free of discrimination.”
Local equality/activist group Cultivative Coalition responded to the press release on its Facebook page and said the full context of the video and the teacher had been unfairly left out of the conversation. The group posted a 40-second video clip of the incident in question on its page and said the district placing the teacher on administrative leave is just “performative activism.”
“It is very clear in this video that the teacher is using hypotheticals to teach the class the impacts of using racial slurs. The video itself shows how willing the district was to finally showcase that they had done something by ‘putting the racist on leave’ even though this is not racism. The teacher heard in the video was also the teacher who was let go due to budget cuts. This teacher provided a safe space for disenfranchised students by not being afraid to stick up for those groups while also educating their class.”
For more context, the video shows the teacher discussing the n-word with the class during a unit in which they were reading the book “To Kill a Mockingbird.” In the video he is detailing how there is no n-word equivalent which can be said to white individuals, so in order to understand the full meaning behind the n-word they need to work harder to understand the seriousness of it and where it is derived from.
The teacher uses loud and provocative language, including saying the n-word, but Cultivative Coalition said students are permitted to say the n-word slur while the reading book, so educating the students about the power of their language while reading this book is not racism.
“Was this teacher’s language provocative? Absolutely, it is clear his intent was to provoke deep thought about the racism that is experienced and perpetuated on a daily basis in this school and in our community. For this, he was escorted out of the building.”
Cultivative Coalition said context and intended meaning being left out of the conversation by the CFAUSD is harmful to the cause they are fighting for, which is to promote equality and understanding between all races, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds throughout Chippewa Falls.
“CFAUSD used this as a ploy to make it seem like they’re doing something positive. They used this as a fear tactic against current staff to not stray away from the norms of Chippewa and not to voice concerns. They used this as a way to show those kids at our rally that they should not try to speak out again because this is what you get. We want to make it clear, you should not demonize this teacher. They were being educators at a time when others were just permitting students to use slurs. We want you to recognize the performative activism the school is doing and demand real change from them—not press releases with no video and no context.”
To watch the original video of the incident you can visit the Cultivative Coalition Facebook page.