TALLAHASSEE — A lawyer is demanding Gov. Charlie Crist strip the certification from a Panhandle teacher who was allowed to keep his job despite using a racial slur in class about Barack Obama.
The Jackson County School Board voted 3-2 Thursday night to uphold suspending Greg Howard for two weeks and transfer him to an adult education school, but rejected angry cries for his termination.
The penalty, which also included Howard losing his football coaching job, had previously been recommended by school superintendent Danny Sims.
"This is unbelievable," said Tallahassee lawyer Ben Crump, who was at the meeting. "Everybody knows this is racism." Crump said the room nearly boiled over with the decision. "It was very heated, very, very heated."
The incident has gathered national attention and this evening, Crump is expected to appear on MSNBC with parents of some of Howard's students.
On Sept. 26, Howard, 43, wrote the word CHANGE — the mantra of Obama's presidential campaign — on a dry-erase board at Marianna Middle School then, according to reports, added his own definition: Come Help A (N-word) Get Elected.
Crump is the lawyer who represented the family of teenager Martin Lee Anderson, who died in a Bay County boot camp near Panama City in 2006. He wrote the school board Thursday urging members to fire the teacher.
"[H]oward's actions were grossly immoral and a serious and flagrant offense, causing embarrassment and disparagement to the black children in his classroom, and causing the impressionable black and white children to believe" that using the racial slur is acceptable. "As a deterrent, Howard should be terminated," it read.
But a divided, all-white school board sided with the superintendent's recommendation.
Terry Nichols, Betty Duffee and Chris Johnson voted for the recommendation; Charlotte Gardner and Kenny Griffin voted against it.
Reached by phone after the meeting, Gardner refused to discuss her feelings. "The vote is over," she said, "therefore I will support the decision."
She added that the superintendent would not agree to a harder judgment. "It looks bad for us and it's not bad," Gardner said. "We're a wonderful place to educate our youth. It's a great place to live."
Crump expected to send the request to Crist later Friday. Erin Isaac, a Crist spokeswoman, said her office had not had time to review the case.
A woman who answered the phone at Howard's home Thursday night said, "We have no comment."