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This article has been updated with statements from Bixby Ninth Grade Center Principal Linda Ricks and Bixby Schools Superintendent Rob Miller.
A Black, substitute teacher says she was reassigned away from Bixby Ninth Grade Center on March 3 for not being “neutral” on racism.
Shannon Hensley is used to being the only Black person in the room. Yet when she moved back to Oklahoma to teach in Bixby, a suburb south of Tulsa that she and her family grew up in, the college graduate, writer and softball coach says she had no idea of the blatant racism she would be forced to ignore in order to keep her job–until she no longer could.
In an exclusive interview with The Black Wall Street Times, Hensley detailed the blatant racism she faced and the lack of support from other teachers and staff.
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection, Bixby High School, which includes the Ninth Grade Center in the report, was 72% White and less than 2% Black as of 2017, the most recent year in which data was available.
Bixby superintendent denies allegations
Hensley says many White boys in the school would say the n-word freely, in and out of class, deface her Black quotes on the board during Black History Month, and sexually harass girls, all of which was allegedly overlooked by school leadership.
Hensley claims she was moved to different classrooms before finally being called to the principals’ office after continually making remarks calling out racism among her students.
“When minorities are being treated poorly in front of me. I can’t ignore it. I can’t be neutral. And that’s where I failed,” Hensley told The Black Wall Street Times.
On Friday, March 3, Hensley says she was reassigned after being ordered to the principal’s office, where Bixby 9th Grade Center Principal Linda Ricks allegedly told her she was unable to remain “neutral” on matters of race.
Meanwhile, in an email to The Black Wall Street Times on Friday, Bixby Public Schools Superintendent Rob Miller denied Hensley’s portrayal of events, calling them “false allegations.”
“Relative to this specific allegation, the principal at our Ninth Grade Center, Linda Ricks, had received multiple recent reports from students about questionable things that Ms. Hensley had said in class or in the hallway to individual students,” Superintendent Miller told The Black Wall Street Times.
The reassignment comes amid a climate of toxicity as newly elected State Superintendent Ryan Walters has launched a war against Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives.
Shannon Hensley and Bixby: A love-hate relationship
As one of just a few well-known Black families in Bixby, Oklahoma, Hensley graduated from Bixby Public Schools as a softball champion, got married, and moved out in the ’90s. Following a divorce, she saw an opportunity to bring her two biracial sons back to her hometown after living in Fayetteville, Arkansas. So, she moved back in July 2022.
Yet as soon as the school year began, she says her two boys, a kindergarten student at Bixby Central Elementary and a fifth grader at Bixby Central Intermediate, began experiencing racism from their classmates for the first time in their lives.
“This is the first time they’re getting shit for being different. They leave the house feeling loved and then at school they get the opposite,” Hensley said.
Days before being reassigned, one of her sons threatened to harm himself and was temporarily hospitalized due to being called the n-word on a daily basis. Hensley put him into a therapy program.
“You’ve got a 10 year old threatening to kill himself because he’s being called a n*gger, and the teachers cant do anything about it,’ she said.
Since 2018, Hensley says she’s contracted with Education Staffing Solutions (ESS) as a long-term substitute teacher to help pay for her college classes. When the school year began, she decided to start subbing at Bixby Ninth Grade Center to get a first-hand experience.
The Black Wall Street Times reached out to representatives with ESS, who referred this journalist to Human Resources manager V. Cinaglia. The manager did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Tuesday, March 21, Principal Linda Ricks spoke with The Black Wall Street Times, saying she takes matters of racism seriously.
“She was never told to remain neutral on matters of race. That was never said,” Principal Ricks told The Black Wall Street Times. “That could not be farther from my heart.”
“This has impacted her emotionally. Because to have anyone question her motivations is really difficult,” Supt. Miller added.
“You hear these White kids with mullets saying n*gger this, n*gger that. And when you tell them to stop they don’t take you seriously,” Hensley said.
For months, Hensley said she stood firm as the only Black authority many Bixby students had ever seen, drawing the ire of students and staff. She says that when she would ask students to follow directions or reprimand them for using offensive language, they would respond by taking her words out of context and reporting them to the principal.
On the other hand, she said many of the school’s Black and immigrant students would seek comfort in her classroom even if they weren’t her students.
On Friday, March 3, Hensley said she learned that she had crossed too many lines with an administration allegedly eager to ignore racism, a point the district’s leadership categorically denies.
“I believe Ms. Hensley has also mischaracterized the conversation she had with Ms. Ricks and her ESS supervisor about being “neutral.” The truth is that she had been counseled about sharing her religious views in the classroom. We advise all of our teachers to avoid any direct conversations with students related to their personal political and religious viewpoints,” Superintendent Miller told The Black Wall Street Times.
Three strikes and fired
Hensley says the principal detailed numerous strikes against her, including:
- Students accused her of discussing political views in the classroom. Hensley says while students were debating voting for Joe Biden or Donald Trump, she informed them she had a degree in liberal arts.
- She asked students if they want her “to be in a bad mood or good mood” while grading their papers. Hensley says she “didn’t know” she was supposed to ignore students dropping the “n-bomb.”
- She was heard telling a Black student to “have fun with the White kids.” Hensley says she was joking with a new student from California who wasn’t used to the lack of diversity.
- She was heard saying the school has a racism problem. Hensley says the principal told her she’s “not supposed” to say that and must instead remain neutral.
Ultimately, Hensley says she was accused of being racist toward White students.
“This is my home. Like, I have been here longer than you have,” Hensley said she told Principal Linda Ricks. “This is my, this is where I’ve been. I have contributed so much to the school. She took that away from me. She took my home, but it was a realization to me that Bixby was never my home.”
“Trying to get out safely”
Meanwhile, Superintendent Miller denied her allegations.
“We do not condone any use of racial slurs or epithets and respond quickly and aggressively to reports, whether they come from students or employees. In fact, one report that Ms. Hensley submitted on a student a few weeks ago was quickly investigated and that student was disciplined,” Superintendent Miller told The Black Wall Street Times.
“For Ms. Hensley to insinuate that she was “fired” because we were trying to silence her on concerns about racism in Bixby schools is patently untrue.”
As a child growing up in Bixby, Hensley said she did whatever she could to fit in and assimilate to the predominate, conservative White culture. As an adult trying to raise her two boys, Hensley said she’s “just trying to get out safely.” With support from an ESS worker, Hensley was able to transfer to Union High School.
“I’ve been subbing since 2018, and I did it to put myself through school because I couldn’t afford a babysitter. And the first time I ever got in trouble was when I came back to Bixby,” Hensley said.
The Black Wall Street Times has reached out to Education Staffing Solutions for more information. They did not immediately respond to a request for comment. This is a developing story.