Thirteen-year-old seventh-grader Latrell Taft said he was in a science class at Heartland Middle School in Edmond, Oklahoma, on Tuesday when his White teacher suddenly stopped the lesson to make him know the “Black King” emblazoned on the T-shirt he was wearing was racist.
In an interview with KFOR, Taft, who got the T-shirt as a birthday present, said the incident left him embarrassed and confused as he was elated to wear his new top to school. “She said that if she had a shirt that said white queen it would have been racist,” he said. “Then after that, she said we need a white history month. I said black people don’t have enough recognition and we barely learn about black people in February at my school.”
Besides that teacher registering her displeasure with his T-shirt, Taft also revealed a majority of his classmates agreed with her sentiments about the shirt being racist. “He does have peers who look like him, but very few,” Taft’s mother, Melisa Shirley, said.
Though Taft’s mother contacted school authorities to report the incident after her son told him what had transpired, she said she was initially “brushed off.” However, the school released a statement to the news outlet saying they were looking into the report twenty-four hours later.
“Upon becoming aware of the incident, the school site and the district began a prompt investigation which is ongoing. District staff is also in contact with the parent of the student. If it is determined that the student was the target of discrimination, bullying, or racism, appropriate and swift action will be taken as required by District policy,” the statement said.
“Edmond Public Schools prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, disability, and religion, and complies with all federal and state civil rights laws.”
In a subsequent statement on Thursday, the school announced the teacher in question had been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation. Taft’s mother also met with school authorities on Thursday.
“There should not be educators like this,” Shirley said. “I think she should be reprimanded.”
Though the school confirmed to KFOR they had met with the teacher to discuss the incident, they did not reveal any further details on the outcome of that meeting. Susan Parks-Schlepp, Director of Communications for the school district, was also coy when she was asked if the teacher had been disciplined.
“The district recognizes the public’s desire for a quick resolution to this issue. However, it’s important to note that employees have fundamental rights to ensure fairness when they are the subject of a complaint,” Parks-Schlepp said in a statement. “Those rights include an option for the teacher to respond to and contest any recommended disciplinary action.”
Despite the embarrassment, Taft said that wouldn’t deter him from wearing the shirt again. “I am proud of my blackness and she will never take it away from me,” he said, later adding: “I would tell her black is beautiful.”