In a recent incident at Glendale High School in Springfield, Missouri, a high school teacher’s use of a racial slur has led to his resignation from the district. Meanwhile, the student who recorded the incident, Mary Walton, faced a three-day suspension, which has sparked controversy and debate surrounding free speech rights and the handling of the situation.
Walton, a 15-year-old sophomore, captured the teacher repeatedly using the racial slur in class on video. Despite her intention to shed light on the incident, she was suspended for what the school district deemed improper use of an electronic device. This decision has drawn criticism from supporters, including the Radio Television Digital News Association, who argue that Walton was exercising her right to free speech and bringing attention to a troubling incident that might have otherwise been overlooked.
Kate Wellborn, Walton’s mother, expressed her surprise at the severity of her daughter’s punishment. She believes that Walton did the right thing by recording the teacher’s actions, as the video provides clear evidence of the situation and its context. Wellborn finds it absurd to penalize someone who took the appropriate course of action in such circumstances.
According to Walton, she began recording the teacher after he used the racial slur multiple times. Her video captured him saying it twice before stopping upon noticing the recording. Walton shared the video with her mother, a friend, and another student involved in the incident, seeking advice on how to proceed. Notably, she did not post the video on social media, and it remains unclear how it spread beyond the immediate recipients, as stated by Natalie Hull, the family’s attorney.
The teacher, whose name has not been released, had been employed by the district since 2008. Following the incident, he was placed on administrative leave and instructed to leave the building. Glendale High School principal Josh Groves addressed school employees and families, acknowledging the inappropriate nature of the comments captured in the video and asserting that they did not meet the professional standards of the Springfield district.
Walton’s suspension came as a surprise to her and her mother, who were notified just before she was set to go to school. Wellborn had to visit the school to inquire about the reason for the suspension. Hull made a request to the district for Walton’s return to school on Monday, but the officials declined. Walton, who recorded the incident with no intention of seeking attention, struggles to comprehend why she was punished so severely.
In response to the incident, Stephen Hall, a spokesperson for the school district, stated that they could not provide specific details regarding their actions concerning the “unacceptable classroom incident.” The district’s student handbook outlines consequences for inappropriate use of electronic devices, taking into consideration if other minors were identifiable and affected by a violation of privacy.
Critics argue that the district’s policy on electronic devices needs reevaluation, as it inhibits students from capturing evidence of any wrongdoing, including potential crimes or misconduct. They believe it is unreasonable to expect young students to know the proper channels for reporting such events.
Dan Shelley, president and CEO of the Radio Television Digital News Association, addressed a letter to Springfield Superintendent Grenita Lathan, urging her to reconsider Walton’s punishment. Shelley cited court decisions upholding citizens’ rights to record activities in public places and highlighted how the district’s policy contradicts those rights.
Walton’s supporters hope that the district will apologize to her, expunge the suspension from her record, and take the opportunity to demonstrate to students that it is acceptable to acknowledge mistakes. However, as of now, the district has not issued an apology and
has stated that they will not remove the suspension from Walton’s record. The incident continues to raise questions about freedom of expression and the appropriate handling of such situations in educational settings.