A white social studies teacher at an Ohio middle school told a 13-year-old black student he would be lynched if he didn't stop talking in class and focus on his work.
Renee Thole, a teacher at Mason Middle School, was reprimanded and ordered to undergo cultural sensitivity training by schools officials, according to Ohio media reports. She was not fired. Tanish Agee-Bell, the boy's mother, said Thole "shouldn't be in the classroom," and a petition on Change.org is seeking her removal.
Gail Kist-Kline, superintendent of the Mason City Schools district, released a statement saying in part:
"We have seen an uptick in the number of racially and culturally insensitive comments in our schools and community. Sometimes these are said out of genuine ignorance. As a district, we want to be very clear, racial slurs or any behavior that discriminates against others are NOT acceptable. When adults act in a way that is not in line with our values, we lose trust. In our district we take corrective action to address these situations, but we need to do more. We will continue to invest in training and resources on culturally proficient practices for administrators, educators and classified staff members that lift up our district's values. We must ensure that ALL Mason City Schools' students are welcomed, valued and cared for while at school."
The increase in racially and culturally insensitive comments mentioned by Kist-Kline is not singular to Mason City Schools or Ohio.
A 2017 UCLA report found that stress and racially charged hostility had increased in high schools in the era of President Trump, who has made a series of racist comments. The Washington Post reported that on Thursday, during talks in the White House with legislators about protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries, he said: "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?"
In Ohio's Kings Local School District, near Mason, school board member Kerry McKiernan announced at a meeting Tuesday night that he was resigning from the panel because his son was part of a recreational basketball team whose members wore jerseys with racial slurs printed on the back.
"There is not place for hate or prejudice anywhere, certainly not in Kings. It breaks my Christian heart. I'm very sorry," he said, the Journal-News reported.
Agee-Bell told WXIX-TV that her son, Nathan, reported that Thole "had told him that if he didn't get back on task, that his friends were going to lynch him, and we thought he must have misunderstood."
Agee-Bell said she then asked Thole what happened. Agee-Bell said the teacher gave a slightly different version, saying she actually told Nathan that if he didn't get back to work, his friends would form "an angry mob and lynch him."
Agee-Bell told the television station: "I was just taken aback because I said, 'What you said is actually worse than what he said you said.' "
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Nathan did not tell his mother what happened for a week. He told her he had challenged Thole, telling her that her comment was "racist." The teacher asked Nathan why he thought so. He did not bring it up at home for a week because he was afraid of getting in trouble for challenging a teacher, the newspaper said.
The Journal-News reported that Thole was reprimanded and told in a letter from officials that "comments that make reference to harming a student are not appropriate even in jest," especially "when they make reference to lynching an African-American male student." The paper said Mason Middle School Principal Tonya McCall wrote a letter to Thole telling her she could be fired if there are "future instances."