ThinkProgress

Ohio middle school teacher threatens black student with lynching

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A Mason, Ohio teacher admitted to using racist language when disciplining a 13-year-old black student last month, threatening the boy that if he didn’t do his schoolwork, his friends would “form an angry mob and lynch you.”

According to WLWT Channel 5, the eighth-grade social studies teacher, Renee Thole, who is white, admitted to the incident after she was confronted by the boy’s mother.

Mason City Schools released a statement that did not specify disciplinary action for the teacher and confirmed with WLWT that she would only receive “training.”

“Sometimes we mess up. Clearly, that was the case here,” the statement read. “We have seen an uptick in the number of racially and culturally insensitive comments in our schools and community. Sometimes these are said out of genuine ignorance. For example, some students contend that they are not being offensive if they say n***a vs. the n-word. As a district, we want to be very clear. We are not OK normalizing racial slurs. Anyone who does so faces disciplinary action.”

Tanish Agee-Bell, the student’s mother, told WLWT that Thole “shouldn’t be in the classroom,” adding that “until she can demonstrate that she understands what the impact of the language that she used and what she did can have, has had on my son, has on his peers and is having on our community, then she doesn’t need to be in the classroom.”

The Ohio case points to a disturbing national trend. Research has found that black students are not only subject to racism, whether overt or unintentional, from white teachers, but are also disproportionately disciplined relative to white students.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that black students account for 32 percent of school suspensions and 42 percent of expulsions, despite making up only 16 percent of the student population. Black boys endure the highest rate of discipline, with nearly one in five receiving an out-of-school suspension.

And the problem starts at a young age. As ThinkProgress previously reported, 2016 data from the Education Department showed that black preschool children were almost four times more likely than white children to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions.

Shocking incidents at a Pittsburgh-area school district over the past year, for example, highlight the worst of this trend. In June, Woodland Hills School District commissioned an independent review of its disciplinary practices, after months of repeated incidents of abuse between white school administrators and black students. In one high-profile case, a Woodland Hills school resource officer, with the help of high school principal Kevin Murray, put a black student in a chokehold, pinned him to the ground, and used a taser on him. Murray was put on administrative leave the prior year for allegedly threatening a student with violence and using expletives.  

Such incidents have led to calls for hiring more teachers of color. According to a 2015 study by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, teachers of color have better impacts on learning and behavior, as well as school attendance and graduation rates, for students of color.