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By Autumn Brown, Senior Writer
The first thing I see when I visit the website for Midwest City-Del City Public Schools is a picture of the Del City High School basketball team. A team consisting of all Black students. Looking at these boys, it saddens me to know that school district administrators dropped the ball in handling teacher, Mary Foote, and her use of the N-word in her 8th grade Social Studies class at Kerr Middle School — a feeder school for Del City.
Mid-Del is comprised of over 30% Black students, though Kerr Middle School has well over a 50% population of Black students.
The teacher, Mary Foote, was showing her class a film, ‘The Alamo’ when she used the racial slur, saying, “Why are they walking with those N-words.”
Making it worse, Foote used the slur multiple times, never stopping to consider the hostility that word carries. And after a week’s suspension and an apology, Foote was allowed back into the classroom among students who could no longer trust her.
Students and parents were outraged, with students having trouble returning to her class 7 days after the incident. What’s more disturbing: How does a paid vacation work toward getting to the root of why Foote felt so okay with using the demeaning racial epithet –especially among a predominantly Black class of students?
When does it end?
And when does Mid-Del take accountability for not doing what is in the best interest of students?
As a former Kerr Middle School teacher, I witnessed firsthand some of the prejudices and biases against Black students. White, female teachers who overtly and covertly consider the Black students as the other in need of taming. White teachers who, in front of me, used the N-word without regard or concern.
Though, in my opinion, the district’s administration, which is a “good ol’ boy” system, deserves as much blame — more, really — for their management of the incident. Considering the second-largest demographic of students in the district are Black, there should be zero tolerance for such racism to take place.
When does moral turpitude come into play?
And when does Mid-Del stop covering up such racist encounters between White teachers and Black students? Like when a Del Crest Middle School teacher used the word to refer to a student and was encouraged to resign so as not to lose their benefits.
Mid-Del is the only district where you can fail up — where failing principals get promoted to administrative positions. And where Black women, with more experience and degrees, get passed over for White women with less education and less experience. And where schools that service predominantly White students from affluent neighborhoods are highly revered and celebrated, while schools on the other side of the tracks (literally) are left to their own devices.
Considering how traumatizing her actions were for students, it baffles me that the district would take such a light approach. How weak is Mid-Del to dismiss such a gross occurrence?
Do they expect students to fall back in line as if nothing happened?
Or, do they simply not care due to the fact this school is “on the wrong side of the tracks”?
This incident further proves that White teachers (and Whites in general) are able to say and do what they please without recourse. And as Mid-Del puts it through their actions, it doesn’t matter if such transgressions severely traumatized students or parents. By the district remaining complicit, they are making a statement in support of Mary’s actions, further perpetuating a racial divide among the district.
Though I wonder if a Black teacher at Carl Albert were to use a racial slur against a class of predominantly White students, what would be the outcome?
As a former Kerr Middle School teacher, I am disgusted and appalled to have been associated with a district that has haphazardly handled a gravely disturbing race-related issue. Mary Foote, and Mid-Del administrators, should be held to the fire until a proper punishment is handed down. One that takes into account the feelings of students, parents, and Black faculty and staff.
Autumn Brown is a doctoral student in social foundations of education at Oklahoma State University. Social foundations analyzes and explains educational issues, policies, and practices through the lenses of history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies. Its goal is to improve the educational experiences for members belonging to marginalized groups. Her research focus centers around the experiences of black women in STEM and black women within the academy. She also researches racial body politics, sexuality, and intimate justice for black women. She has published a book chapter titled “Breaking the silence: Black women’s experience with abortion,” and has presented her work on the intense policing of the black female body nationally. Autumn plans on continuing her pursuits in bringing awareness to the injustices imposed on members within her community, and advocating for equitable education for black and brown students. She plans on finishing her Ph.D. in May 2020 and hopes to move into a tenure-tracked faculty position at a top tier research university.
In reference to the article titled: “White Okla. teacher uses n-word multiple times during a social studies class,” it saddens me that this type of dialogue is what is being put forth. As a white teacher in Oklahoma who CHOOSES to teach at a Title 1 school, I am offended by the way that this article has been approached (leaving an affluent school to teach here, in fact). Teachers choose to work in these schools to make a difference. We do a lot of extra things for our students (including a lot of things that parents should do but either choose not to or don’t have the means to or understanding to provide) to help ensure that OUR students/kids succeed. I do not look down on these precious kids and I certainly do not have prejudices against them or consider them “the other” – they are my kids and I love on them every chance that I get in order to show them their value as an individual. They are not black kids or white kids and none of them is someone whose future has been predetermined by their circumstances. Furthermore, as an educator, our students are never “left to their own devices.” It would seem that this article is intended to persecute and create a divide rather than to educate, inspire, and foster positive change. If your goal were the latter, then a positive dialogue would be required rather than name-calling and finger-pointing. You should ask yourself what outcome you are truly looking for – is it to get someone fired or to elicit a positive change which can serve to educate and inspire students, teachers, and everyone watching? If it is the latter, then stop perpetuating the negative divide and start being the force that drives positive change.
I agree that the district should have done more at the time of the investigation being done, such as put her on administrative leave until an apology was made, sensitivity training was completed, and a reassignment of duties to another school was made upon the start of the following year. However, as of this day 2/27/20, Ms. Foote was fired. This was most likely due to outside pressures of media and parents. Both of which have no understanding who Ms. Foote is as a person. I hope you as a person who values education, also disagrees with the decision to fire somebody because of ignorance. She was ignorant. She should have been given a reprimand AND given the opportunity to learn from that ignorance. But for the district to change their minds to fire her because of parental and media pressure is gutless and hypocritical. As an institution of education, it is hypocritical for Mid-Del to not give somebody a second chance to learn from their ignorance and I think good teachers will think twice before committing to a district that makes decisions based on parent and media pressures.
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