DES MOINES, Iowa – The mother of a Des Moines high school graduate is still seeking answers about how the district disciplined the teacher who told her son – an African American – to address him as “master.”
The incident in question occurred in mid-May when student Jabre White and his classmates were preparing to take their final exam in economics.
According to the Des Moines Register, teacher Shawn McCurtain told students to head downstairs for the exam.
White responded by saying, “Yes, sir.”
McCurtain corrected him: “You meant to say, ‘Yes, sir, master.’”
White was stunned and hurt by the teacher’s remark and fired back: “Who the f— are you talking to? You’re nobody’s master, and this is not the slave days.”
Nicholle White, Jabre’s mom, asked school officials to investigate the incident when she learned about it last month, the Des Moines Register reports.
Vice Principal Joseph Blazevich confirmed that the exchange did take place and that the teacher was “remorseful” about his actions. However, the vice principal would not tell Nicholle White how McCurtain was being punished by the district, citing state law that requires district personnel matters be kept confidential.
All that is known for sure is that McCurtain is still employed by the district.
The Des Moines Register reports:
“(Nicholle) White has reached out to the school board this month because she fears the matter was handled lightly and believes the remark warranted more than a reprimand in McCurtain’s file. She said she thinks the teacher needs to undergo diversity training — or if he’s already had some, more.”
The Register notes this controversy “reveals a contradiction of sorts in Iowa law regarding teacher discipline.” As things stand now, Nicholle White will never know how McCurtain was punished for making the offensive and hurtful comment.
However, if she files a complaint with Iowa Board of Educational Examiners, as is her right, the board’s final written decision about how to discipline McCurtain will be made public.
The downside: a final resolution will likely take months.
It’s understandable that state officials want to protect the privacy of state employees; that’s a noble effort in this Google-driven world. But the fact remains that school officials are public servants and they need to be held accountable by their bosses, the taxpayers.
What McCurtain did was inexcusable and the Des Moines community deserves to know how the matter was handled by officials. In government matters like this one, transparency must trump privacy.
As for McCurtain, he did call Nicholle White to apologize for his behavior. He claimed the comment was meant as a joke, but the mother isn’t fully buying that explanation, given the strained relationship the teacher has had with her son during his four years in high school.