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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Teacher suspended for remark

31

July

The Pinellas School Board on Tuesday approved a one-day suspension for a white teacher who referred to the hair of an African American girl as "nappy."

The board voted 5-2 in favor of the suspension and diversity training for Belcher Elementary teacher Porsha Call.

Board members Linda Lerner and Janet Clark voted against the unpaid suspension, saying they did not consider the word racially offensive. "I don't use the term nappy. I've used the word frizzy for my own hair at times," said Lerner, who agreed with a related recommendation that Call receive diversity training. "I did not realize it was an offensive word."

Board member Janet Clark agreed, saying she found a Web site called “A Nappy Hair Affair,” which seemed to celebrate the word.

"I don't know that the word is racially offensive," Clark said. "I'm not black, so I can't speak from personal experience. But it is an adjective, correct? It describes your hair."

Mary Brown, the board's only black member, said the term has been used in a negative way to describe black people.

Board member Nancy Bostock noted that the teacher signed a document agreeing to the suspension. She said the one-day suspension reflected that the remark was not as offensive as some others. The typical punishment for a racially offensive remark is three to five days, she noted.

Officials said the remark violated a district policy prohibiting employees from making "inappropriate or disparaging remarks to or about students or exposing a student to unnecessary embarrassment or disparagement."

According to an account by the district's Office of Professional Standards, a student asked Call why another teacher was combing the hair of an African American girl. Call responded, "She is trying to do something to her nappy hair." Another teacher reported the remark to an administrator.

Call, a veteran teacher with a good employment record, told investigators she did not know the term was offensive.

The term "nappy" became the topic of a national debate in April when radio personality Don Imus used it as part of a larger statement criticizing the Rutgers University women's basketball team. Imus was fired for making a racial slur.

-THOMAS C. TOBIN

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:20am]

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