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Missouri high school student suspended 3 days after recording teacher using racial slur in class

The 15-year-old sophomore at Glendale High in Springfield was suspended under a district policy that prohibits students from recording faculty members without their approval.

A high school sophomore in Missouri was suspended three days after she recorded her teacher last week using a racist slur in class, prompting the teenager’s lawyer and mother to demand that the district apologize and expunge the suspension from her record.

The incident occurred May 9 in a geometry class at Glendale High School in Springfield, when the student’s teacher used the slur more than once, and the student then decided to pick up her cellphone and record, said the teenager’s lawyer, Natalie Hull.

The student, Mary Walton, recorded the teacher, whom the school district has not publicly identified, using the N-word twice in a video that lasts about one minute.

In part of the video, another student objects to the teacher’s use of the word, and he responds: “I’m not calling anyone a n----r. I can say the word.”

Glendale High School in Springfield, Mo.
Glendale High School in Springfield, Mo.Google Maps

The teacher is no longer employed with the school system, Springfield Public Schools said. The student was suspended, Hull said, under a policy that prohibits students from recording faculty members unless they get consent.

“It is absolutely impressive that the 15-year-old girl knew something was happening and stood up in the face of it and said: ‘I’m going to document this. I’m going to stand up for what’s right, no matter what. And I am going to make sure that this is brought to light,’” Hull said in an interview Tuesday.

She added: “Mary was trying to provide indisputable documentation of the monumental wrong she was witnessing in class. Mary does not understand why she got punished, because she did the right thing.”

Hull said the teenager is also concerned about potential backlash she may get when she returns to class after the suspension.

“She’s worried about how she’s going to be treated. And she’s worried about how this is going to affect her moving forward in her educational endeavors.”

School district spokesperson Stephen Hall said in a statement the teacher no longer is employed with the school system. Hall also defended punishment for students under similar circumstances.

“Much speculation has occurred regarding student discipline related to a video recording of the unacceptable classroom incident,” Hall said. “Student discipline is confidential, per federal law, and Springfield Public Schools cannot disclose specifics related to actions taken.

"The student handbook is clear, however, on consequences for inappropriate use of electronic devices," the statement continues. "Any consequences applied per the scope and sequence would also consider if minors are identifiable in the recording and what, if any, hardships are endured by other students due to a violation of privacy with the dissemination of the video in question."

Hall said the school district stands by the district's handling of the incident.

"We want our schools to be safe and welcoming learning environments. When students have concerns, they should follow the appropriate steps for reporting.”

Glendale High School Principal Josh Groves noted in a message to the high school community May 9 that the comments the teacher expressed on video were “inappropriate, inexcusable and do not meet the professional standards for Springfield Public Schools employees.”

Under the district policy in the student handbook titled “Inappropriate Use of Electronic Devices,” students are prohibited from recording faculty members or students without approval. Punishments for first offenses in high school range from a meeting between parents and faculty members to detention and a maximum three-day suspension.

Walton’s mother, Kate Welborn, 44, said Tuesday her daughter's decision to record was morally correct.

“What any parent wants is to know that they have raised a child that has a good moral compass,” Welborn said. “My daughter demonstrated that, and I am incredibly proud of her, and so is her father and her extended family.”

Hull likened Walton’s actions to those of a whistleblower and said the district policy needs to be re-evaluated because it is too restrictive.

“When she picked up the camera and started recording … it was a news event. She was capturing it in case it needed to be shared,” Hull said.

The school district, citing student confidentiality, declined to comment Tuesday on whether it will re-evaluate its policy, expunge the student’s suspension or apologize to her.