UPDATE: The Lee's Summit School Board has voted not to fire a teacher accused of repeating a racial slur used by a student.
The board voted 5-2 not to terminate the contract of Pleasant Lea Middle School teacher Joe Oswald. The determination is outlined in a legal document.
Oswald says he used the N-word while reading a student’s statement back to her. He says he felt like he was following district policy to make sure the student understood the gravity of her words.
A statement from the school district says it will review its policy and procedures.
LEE’S SUMMIT, MO (KCTV) – Tuesday night, Lee’s Summit school board members were greeted by a chanting crowd of people pushing to keep a teacher and coach under fire for admittedly saying a racial slur.
“We support Joe! We support Joe!” chanted the crowd of more than 100 people lining the sidewalk as board members arrived for a 5 p.m. closed meeting to vote on whether to terminate the Joe’s Oswald’s employment as the superintendent had suggested. Tuesday’s vote comes weeks after a public hearing in June that lasted until 2:30 a.m.
“I was outraged by the way he was treated,” said parent Nate Flint.
Flint had t-shirts made for the rally sporting the hashtag #contextmatters. He’d never interacted with Oswald but watched the hearing from start to finish.
“He’s a good man, and he's being painted as something that he's not by the administration. He's being painted as a racist,” Flint said about what he took from the hours of evidence presented.
Joe Oswald has been with the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District for 27 years, teaching P.E. and coaching multiple sports.
Does context matter when a racial slur is used? That’s what’s at the heart of a hearing Wednesday night over whether a Lee’s Summit teacher and coach should be fired.
At last month’s hearing, he told the board he used the N-word at Pleasant Lea Middle School in May while reading a student’s statement back to her -- quoting what she said -- when submitting a form for discipline.
One of Oswald’s neighbors, who spent time in the district as a substitute teacher several years ago, attended Tuesday’s rally and said it is standard practice in the district to quote a student’s words verbatim and read it back.
“I wrote up a kid for using the f-word and I wrote ‘F-word’ on the same report that Joe filled out, and the assistant superintendent brought if back and said, you need to be specific,” remembered Tom Hill.
At the hearing the superintendent said spelling the word out as a quote in writing is one thing, but in no context is it okay to speak that word.
“It’s wrong to say such things in front of students,” Superintendent Dr. David Buck said at the hearing. “It has always been wrong. It was wrong when I was a kid in the 70s and 80s.”
Several of his former players, including three Black men, spoke in Oswald’s defense, saying he treated them like family and is not a racist, then Oswald himself spoke.
“I did what I was told to do and how I was told to do it, and I didn’t call anyone by the n-word,” Oswald said.
Outside board headquarters Tuesday night, a woman who taught alongside Oswald and retired after 32 years with the district, said she remembers Oswald as consistently cheerful and calm.
“No matter what happens with this, Joe Oswald's legacy will be that he is a stellar, wonderful man,” said Jeanette Parsons.
The law allows a 72-hour window to announce the vote count. A district spokeswoman said most likely they will inform the teacher and his legal team Wednesday then make a public announcement after that.