An Oklahoma teacher who allegedly told a 13-year-old boy that his “Black King” shirt was racist in the middle of a seventh-grade class has been placed on administrative leave, pending a decision on disciplinary action.
“Edmond Public Schools is aware of an incident in a classroom at Heartland Middle School involving a district employee and a seventh-grade student who wore a t-shirt featuring an outline of Africa and the words ‘Black King’ written on the front,” the district said in a statement.
“If it is determined that the student was the target of discrimination, bullying, or racism, appropriate and swift action will be taken as required by District policy.”
Latrell Taft, a 13-year-old seventh-grade student at Heartland Middle School, said his science teacher abruptly stopped a Feb. 23 lesson about the periodic table to ask him what his T-shirt said.
The teen was wearing a black shirt proclaiming “Black King” that features an outline of the African continent. The shirt was a recent birthday present.
But Taft’s teacher allegedly made her disapproval of the shirt known to everyone in the room.
“She said that if she had a shirt that said white queen it would have been racist,” Taft told KFOR. “Then after that she said we need a white history month. I said Black people don’t have enough recognition and we barely learn about Black people in February at my school.”
Taft said most of the class picked the teacher’s side and said his shirt was racist.
“I was embarrassed,” the teen said.
Melisa Shirley, the teen’s mom, said many of Taft’s peers don’t look like him.
Edmond Public Schools is about 62 percent white and 11 percent Black.
Shirley said she called Heartland Middle School right away after learning about the incident but she wasn’t taken seriously at first. The district later released a statement announcing the incident was under review and sharing that the district is continuing to assess the need for unconscious bias training for staff members.
Susan Parks-Schlepp, director of communications for the district, also shared that the teacher involved has been placed on paid administrative leave pending potential disciplinary action.
“This afternoon, district leadership is meeting with the teacher. A decision on disciplinary action could be taken following this afternoon’s meeting if warranted by the facts and authorized by state law and board policy,” Schlepp said.
Taft said the teacher’s comments won’t deter him from wearing the shirt.
“I am proud of my blackness, and she will never take it away from me,” Taft said. “I am a king because I think I’m a king.”
In a later update provided to local station KFOR, Parks-Schlepp confirms meeting with the teacher but she remained mum on the outcome.
“Edmond Public Schools district administrators met this afternoon, Thursday, Feb. 25, with a Heartland Middle School teacher at the center of a complaint.
The district recognizes the public’s desire for a quick resolution to this issue. However, it’s important to note that employees have fundamental rights to ensure fairness when they are the subject of a complaint. Those rights include an option for the teacher to respond to and contest any recommended disciplinary action.
As such, the district cannot, at this time, divulge any further details about the outcome of today’s meeting.”