Students at a Virginia high school are petitioning for a teacher to return to class after she was put on leave over the use of the word “nigger” in class.
Lynne Pierce teaches American history at Heritage High School in Newport News, and had a class discussion that revolved around racism and derogatory terms. According to Pierce, who has taught for about 40 years, she described the Washington Redskins team name as derogatory in nature, and when a student asked her to explain why, she said it would be like naming a team the “Newport News Niggers.”
That ended up being a mistake, especially since Pierce is white while Heritage is 90 percent black. At least one student complained, and now the school has placed Pierce on leave. It’s not clear when, or if, Pierce will be coming back.
“Newport News Public Schools is dedicated to ensuring that our students are educated in a professional, safe and nurturing environment,” the school said in a statement obtained by ABC13 News. “When a school administrator receives a complaint or concern from a student or family member about possible inappropriate employee behavior, an investigation is launched as all such concerns are taken very seriously.”
But many at the school are fighting back, saying Pierce did nothing wrong. Heritage alumnus Juslena Williams created an online petition defending her, which currently has over 1,700 signatures, including several hundred from Newport News residents. Several signers claims to be former students, and some say Pierce one of their favorite teachers.
Williams’ petition says it’s absurd to punish Pierce for simply using the n-word while otherwise condemning racism.
“Not in any way did Ms. Pierce tell a student that they were the ‘N’ word,” the petition says. “She gave a logical, historical, and educational example of ignored racism in America. The high school is 90% Black so the comparison was appropriate to show students how offensive it is on both side of the spectrum. Ms. Pierce did nothing wrong. She is a history teacher, she cannot be censored for teaching terms and beliefs that people had throughout history.”
Williams also argues that the suspension will have genuine academic consequences for students:
“Since Ms. Pierce’s leave, her classes are being covered by substitutes. These students are falling behind. In an AP setting students should be mature enough to hear words like that when we talk about History. We cannot sugarcoat history.”
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