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Fired Harrisonville teacher says he didn't use racial slur; plans legal action

John Magoffin Harrisonville School Teacher
Posted at 12:26 PM, Jul 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-02 00:02:32-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Harrisonville teacher fired for using a racial slur says he didn't use that slur and plans legal action.

The Harrisonville School Board voted, 4-3, in a closed meeting Wednesday night to terminate John Magoffin.

The board's decision was released publicly Thursday morning.

"The Board concluded that Mr. Magoffin's use of inappropriate language violated the rules and regulations of the District and was unacceptable conduct for a tenured teacher in the District. We commend the students and parents in bringing forth their concerns to the administration so that this matter could be appropriately addressed. We also commend our teachers and employees who uphold the high standards of our profession and work diligently each day on behalf of all students. We will continue to move forward in our mission to provide a safe and successful learning environment for all District students and staff at the Harrisonville Cass R-IX School District," the district said in a statement.

In an interview with 41 Action News Thursday night, Magoffin denied he ever used a racial slur when a student in his AP Biology class asked about why the 'n-word' was used in rap music and in not everyday society.

"I've never used that word. I never do use that word. I don't ever intend to use that word," Magoffin said. "But I don't regret engaging with a student on something that was difficult."

Magoffin had been on administrative leave since April.

He fought to keep his job during a hearing with the school board on June 15 that lasted into the early hours of the next morning, but said he doesn't believe he got a fair shake.

"I was hurried, I was rushed, I was told to get on with it," Magoffin said. "I had a lot of questions that I really wanted to be able to get answered. But a lot of them were objecting."

Following a records request from 41 Action News, the district provided the board's vote result. Board members Doug Alexander, Tina Graef, Douglas Meyer and Nancy Shelton voted in favor of Magoffin's dismissal, while Cameron Chenoweth, Bing Schimmelpfenning and Brittney Sexton were opposed.

"I'm thankful that three members knew my character," Magoffin said. "They listened to what I had to say. They understand that the evidence wasn't compelling."

Magoffin characterized his classroom as a safe space for students to ask hard questions and share their opinions. Because of that, he plans to appeal the board's decision.

"I'm going to pursue what's legally right for other teachers to be able to continue to thoughtfully engage with human beings in their classroom and feel like every syllable isn't going to be scrutinized so that one word gets them fired without question," Magoffin said. "We need teachers to lean into difficult things."

Following the board's announcement, Magoffin said in a letter through his attorney that he planned to appeal the decision.

"He presented credible evidence in his favor as to each charge, others substantiated his account, he stands by his testimony, and continues to deny he ever willfully or persistently violated any properly adopted and published district regulations," the letter stated. "The students’ recollections are not shared by him and were refuted by others, as well."

Magoffin said in the interview with 41 Action News that he thinks the topic that resulted in his termination is one that needs to be addressed, but some students who made the allegation might not have been paying attention in class that day.

Magoffin also claimed through his attorney that he was denied equal protection and due process by being placed on administrative leave without board approval, which allowed "the administration to fail to take any action to investigate his credible complaints of threats made by the family of a district employee, who violated district confidentiality rules by posting false allegations and using inappropriate language directed at him, exacerbated the situation and violated his rights."

A district spokesperson said the board was waiting for receipt of the hearing transcript, a process that could take up to 10 days from the hearing, before they could make a decision.

Magoffin is confident his teaching days aren't over.

"I don't intend to stop serving others," he said. "I just need to find a good place to heal, to let others heal and then I hope a door will open."