The white Mason Middle School teacher who told an African-American student his classmates would “lynch” him if he didn’t do his school work was reprimanded Thursday, ordered into cultural sensitivity training and may be fired if it happens again.
According to documents released by Mason Schools, middle school teacher Renee Thole was told in a letter from district officials that “comments that make reference to harming a student are not appropriate even in jest.”
“Especially when they make reference to lynching an African-American male student. Regardless of the context this is especially insensitive given the context of race in our American history,” wrote Principal Tonya McCall in the Jan. 11 letter.
“Be advised that future instances of problems in the areas we have discussed may warrant further disciplinary action to be taken against you that may lead to termination of your employment,” McCall wrote.
The student told his mother about the classroom exchange last month, and the story has since drawn national attention.
The teacher’s class was studying early American history, and McCall’s reprimand letter further states Thole – a veteran teacher with the Warren County district – later told district officials her choice of words was insensitive “and understood why they were not appropriate even if they were in context of what you had been studying in class.”
According to statements made to Mason school officials, Thole said she told the boy he was “off task” and told him to get to work.
“Approximately 10 minutes later, he still was off task … Your classmates are tired of you costing them points,” she stated.
“When you come in tomorrow without your homework completed, you (sic) classmates are going to be angry and then become a mob who will want to lynch you,” according to the teacher’s statement.
The boy then said such a statement was racist, according to Thole.
“I immediately stopped working with my small group … and said ‘I’m so sorry. I did not mean that the way it came out,’” she wrote.
Thole then said the black student said “It’s okay. I know you were joking.”
The next day Thole said she received a phone call from the boy’s mother, Tanisha Agee-Bell.
“She was very disappointed because I do not understand my impact on the culture toward African-American students,” according to her written account. “I replied that I understand and deeply apologize for my hurtful comment. It was a statement I said without thinking and there is not a good reason for my statement.”
The 13-year-old boy’s mother told Thole she should also apologize to the entire class. The boy has since been moved into another history class.
According to Thole’s statement to district officials, her apology to the class included telling her students “I made a comment the other day where I didn’t stop and think before I spoke.”
“As a result of that I deeply hurt a student and I regret that. Just because I never meant to hun (sic) anyone, doesn’t mean that didn’t happen, so —I’m sorry. If I had just taken two seconds to think before I used the word lynch, I would have not hurt a student. I didn’t think about all of the ugliness and horrible history surrounding that word before I used it. (I) am deeply sorry and I hope that you can forgive me.”
Both Thole and Agee-Bell were unavailable for comment.
According to the reprimand letter, Thole was ordered to: “Refrain from using remarks that make references to harming a student; contact parent(s) immediately when there is an issue in your classroom and participate in district directed culturally responsive practices training.”
Mason school officials have publicly promised – in a message sent to school parents Thursday – to further the district’s efforts in promoting racial and cultural sensitivity among staffers and students.