LEE’S SUMMIT, Mo. – Pleasant Lea Middle School teacher and coach Joe Oswald is fighting for his job after writing a racial slur that was used by a student on a disciplinary slip and repeating it back to her to confirm what she was in trouble for.
The Lee’s Summit school board held a 9-hour public hearing Wednesday night to consider terminating Oswald, which was Superintendent Dr. David Buck’s recommendation. The hearing was set up similar to a courtroom with attorneys present to represent both sides.
On May 6, Oswald and another teacher heard a student use a racial slur in the lunchroom. As part of the school district’s protocol, Oswald took the student to the principal’s office and wrote down what was said on a “green slip” – an incident report given administrators as a referral for disciplinary action.
He then read the green slip aloud to the student to make sure it was understood what she was being disciplined for. The student received an in-school suspension for the incident.
“A teacher has engaged in conduct that the administration believes is wholly inconsistent with that vision and those commitments, and more specifically, with your board of education policy,” the school district’s attorney said at the hearing.
Dr. David Carlson, executive director of human resources, conducted an investigation into the incident and interviewed students and building staff. He concluded that Oswald violated board policy by repeating the racial slur used, but recommended disciplinary action and diversity training rather than terminating the teacher as suggested by Buck.
“[Oswald] said it was never OK to use that word,” said Dr. David Carlson, executive director of human resources. “He was upset that she had used the word. He was trying to be accurate. He’d been told to write down exactly what was said and that’s what he had done.”
Dr. Carlson wasn’t the only school employee to come to the defense of Oswald. Several other middle school teachers testified that they have done the same thing when filling out a green slip, or that they would have if they were in a similar situation as Oswald.
“I would’ve done it exactly the way Joe did it,” said Casey Guilfoyle, the teacher who was alongside Oswald when they heard the student use the slur.
Included in the dozen former students and teachers testifying on behalf of Oswald’s high moral character was teacher Jason Wright and Lee’s Summit West graduate Logan Cheadle.
“I don’t have enough good adjectives to say about the guy,” Wright said.
Cheadle said he had witnessed racism in the school district during his time there, but that it was never from Oswald.
“I would say he’s a lot more than just a coach,” Cheadle said, adding that he was “furious” about the recommendation to terminate Oswald’s job.
Oswald is a tenured teacher, having taught at Pleasant Lea Middle School for 27 years.
The school board is expecting a full transcript of the hearing by July 6. After the transcript is received, the board members will have a week to review it and make a decision on whether or not to continue with the superintendent’s recommendation of terminating Oswald’s contract.