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Lee's Summit R-7 holds hearing for teacher accused of using racial slur

Lee's Summit R-7 School District Tony L. Stansberry Leadership Center.jpg
Posted at 5:42 PM, Jun 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-23 23:38:19-04

LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. — A Lee's Summit teacher fought Wednesday night to keep his job during a special hearing after being accused of saying a racial slur while talking to a middle school student.

That accused teacher is Joe Oswald, a teacher and coach at Pleasant Lea Middle School.

"Through the evidence tonight, you will hear that Mr. Oswald repeated the n-word twice in the presence of two students. Both of those students reported their concern," Michelle Basi, the attorney representing Lee's Summit R-7 School District, said at Wednesday's hearing.

The incident occurred in May after Oswald allegedly heard a student say the slur, then repeated it.

A parent emailed school leaders and that prompted an investigation.

Dr. David Carlson, executive director of human resources at Lee's Summit R-7 School District said that Oswald described "not knowing" what his thought process was.

"He's wanting to process with the student and be accurate and for her to confirm the accuracy of what was written," Carlson said. "He said he read it right off the green slip. When [he] finished reading, she was snickering, kind of laughing is what Joe described. And he said it was never OK to use – that word is a condescending, derogatory word that should never be used. He was upset that she had used the word. He was trying to be accurate."

Once the investigation was complete, Superintendent David Buck recommended that Oswald, who has been with the district for 27 years, be fired.

But Oswald's attorney argued the district isn't clear on its policies.

"To charge him for uttering a racial slur, when it's not contained in the policies of the Lee's Summit R-7 School District, is not contained in any of the documents that have been provided," Michael McDorman, Oswald's attorney, said.

Administrators, including Brian Lindquist, assistant principal at Pleasant Lea Middle School, said they believe that saying any slur is unacceptable.

When Basi asked Lindquist if he was aware of teachers using the n-word in "any other context" and the middle school, Lindquist said, "No."

Basi then questioned if Lindquist believed Oswald's "use of the n-word in this context was wrong," to which Lindquist said, "Yes."

"It's a racial slur. He can't say it. It's when we're working with students, for students and we're trying to build them up. We can't use those words," Lindquist said.

Several Lee’s Summit residents were turned away from the special hearing, despite available seating.

The district made 200 seats available at the Stansberry Leadership Center, 301 Northeast Tudor Road. Officials held a lottery Wednesday ahead of the meeting, at which time 91 seats were available and 40 people showed up.

Some seating was made available in the board’s meeting room, while others were on the second floor of the PDC room in the Stansberry Leadership Center, where the livestream could be viewed, according to a news release.

A spokesperson said in an email prior to the hearing that tickets were drawn at 4 p.m. to fill seats in the board meeting room.

“Once those seats are filled, tickets will be drawn to fill the available seats in the PDC room. Those whose tickets are not drawn will not be allowed into SLC,” the spokesperson said.

With 51 seats remaining, residents have been told instead to watch a stream of the hearing.

Oswald was expected to testify Wednesday night, but the board won't make a decision until a future meeting.