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Decatur High teacher disciplined after using slur in front of students

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Decatur High teacher disciplined after using slur in front of students

The front steps of Decatur High School. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

This story has been updated. 

Decatur, GA — A white male Decatur High teacher was recently disciplined following his use of a racial slur in front of students.

“The word that was used was the n-word,” Superintendent Maggie Fehrman said. “It was used in the context of correcting a student that he heard use the word. Neither the student nor the teacher directed the word at anyone, but the teacher repeated the word that the student used in telling the student it was inappropriate language. CSD cannot provide any further details about the incident or the consequences, as that is a confidential personnel matter.”

Phil Cuffey, co-chair of the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights, said the incident raises a number of concerns for him. The organization fights racial oppression and injustice in Decatur.

“As I understand it, this teacher’s use of the n-word three times in the classroom, that’s just egregious, and my first concern is about the students and the welfare of these students and what CSD is doing to address their potential harm,” Cuffey said. 

Fehrman said CSD’s investigation of the incident confirmed the slur was not directed at anyone.

“Nonetheless, the use of the word at all is still extremely offensive and showed seriously poor judgment,” Fehrman said. “The district takes this matter very seriously and took corrective action against the teacher.  While some people may not be satisfied that the disciplinary action was severe enough, and others may believe it was too severe, CSD responded consistent with its progressive discipline policy.  The high school also engaged in a restorative conversation with the parties harmed by the use of the word.”

When asked if the teacher should’ve been fired, Cuffey said, “I would not venture that far to say that it’s a mandatory termination, but I think what has to happen has to be commensurate with the offense.” 

Cuffey said that due to the incident, the teacher’s class “now has a pall cast upon it” that will affect students each time they enter the classroom. He’s learned that some students who attended tutoring sessions with the teacher have withdrawn from those sessions. Cuffey noted the amount of training and equity work that CSD is doing with teachers, including training about conscious and unconscious bias. He said the incident makes him question whether that training is effective.

It gives us pause to question it,” Cuffey said. 

Decatur High has dealt with controversies regarding racist incidents over the years, primarily stemming from students being videotaped saying the n-word.

One video emerged in April 2020 showing a white female student using the word while lip-syncing to a song. Another video that emerged around the same time showed a different white female student using the same epithet twice and making an obscene gesture at the camera. The most high-profile of these incidents occurred when a video emerged showing the son of a Decatur High administrator making racist threats. The district’s handling of that incident in particular led to a lawsuit that ended with the administrator receiving a $350,000 settlement from the district’s insurer.

Fehrman also did her own restorative work after making comments in 2021 about the school district’s mask policy and vaccinations that were offensive to people of color.

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