—UPDATED—

July 16, 2021 11:31 a.m.

On the motion to uphold the recommendation of termination, the board voted 5 to 2 to oppose the recommendation. Board members Ryan Murdock, Kim Fritchie, Judy Hedrick, Mike Allen and Kathy Campbell voted against termination. The board’s two Black members, Megan Marshall and Rodrick Sparks, voted in favor.

July 16, 2021 10:12 a.m.

Mallory Herrmann
Staff Reporter

The decision not to terminate his contract as a tenured teacher and coach at Pleasant Lea Middle School was made by the board of education this week in a closed session. The board voted 5 to 2; the Tribune does not yet know how individual board members voted.

The findings of fact and conclusions of law document provided by the district includes a summary of the board’s decision. The board ultimately determined that the standard for “immoral conduct” had not been met.

“The Board unanimously believes Mr. Oswald exercised poor judgment in the way he handled the disciplinary referral for Student A,” the document reads. “But a violation of Board policy does not, standing alone, suffice for the termination of a tenured teacher’s contract, based on Missouri courts’ interpretation of the Teacher Tenure Act.”

The issue has become another flashpoint in the community after strong resistance to equity training for school district staff, the 2019 resignation of the district’s first Black superintendent (Dr. Dennis Carpenter) after months of turmoil related to racial bias and equity issues, and comments from then-board president Julie Doane equating “driving while blonde” with “driving while Black” made national news in 2019.

Oswald had repeated a racial slur in front of two students on May 6 while writing a disciplinary referral form. Dr. David Carlson, executive director of human resources, conducted an investigation on behalf of the district and Dr. David Buck, superintendent of schools, determined that termination of contract was appropriate.

Oswald received a notice of charges on May 29 that would result in his termination as a result of “immoral conduct” and violation of board policy. He requested a hearing before the board of education to appeal the decision.

During a public hearing on June 23, witnesses were called by both Michelle Basi, attorney for the district, and Michael McDorman, Oswald’s representation. Over the course of nearly ten hours, teachers, administrators, former students and Oswald himself testified to district policy, the nature of racial slurs and profanity, and of Oswald’s character.

Buck said that it is not the expectation that teachers confirm the specifics of an incident – including any profane language – while filling out a discipline referral. Still, both Oswald and the other teachers who testified said that it was standard practice to repeat the exact language in order to confirm it.

“I was just making sure that I had it correct,” Oswald said, noting that it had been chaotic during the lunch period with students wearing masks, other conversations taking place or students getting up to clear their trays.

After further questioning, Oswald said that he did not handle such incidents in the same manner when coaching students on the field in his capacity as a coach.

The administration maintained that there is never an acceptable reason for students, especially young students of color, to hear teachers say the word.

Dr. David Sharp, the principal at Pleasant Lea Middle School, testified that the usage was inappropriate and that Oswald could have confirmed the accuracy of the report without repeating the word.

“You shouldn’t use the n-word in front of students,” Sharp said.

“Use of a racial slur in the presence of middle school students who are minorities is not courteous communication,” Buck said, citing the BIST (Behavior Intervention Support Team) standards of communication with students.

Related article: LSR7 Teacher Defends Repetition Of Racial Slur

The Board’s 5-2 determination is outlined in a legal document.

—UPDATED—

July 16, 2021 11:31 a.m.

On the motion to uphold the recommendation of termination, the board voted 5 to 2 to oppose the recommendation. Board members Ryan Murdock, Kim Fritchie, Judy Hedrick, Mike Allen and Kathy Campbell voted against termination. The board’s two Black members, Megan Marshall and Rodrick Sparks, voted in favor.

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