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Teacher who said N-word had ‘no malicious intent’

Crystal Holt will keep her job in Denison, entire staff will get cultural training

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The Denison Community School District will create a cultural advisory committee and its entire staff will get “diversity and cultural training” in response to a teacher’s utterance of a racial slur in class last week.

Teacher Crystal Holt was suspended after students challenged her use of the N-word in a high school government class that examined the criminal case of a man who used racist and anti-gay language before he shot and killed four people in North Carolina in 1993.

The district announced Thursday that Holt would return to her job because she “had no malicious intent,” but did not say when.

“During small group student discussions, about aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the teacher engaged one of the groups who were discussing the case,” a school district investigation found. “The teacher explained to the student group that derogatory terms were used by the perpetrator while committing a horrendous act. In doing so, the teacher used the ‘N’ word in its entirety while instructing.”

Holt said the word again, as well as a homophobic slur, as she later argued with students about whether it was appropriate for her to utter the highly offensive slur in school, and wondered aloud if the students were “not mature enough to handle it,” according to a recording of the encounter.

“This is called political correctness bullcrap,” Holt said in the recording, which was posted online.

The incident prompted more than 100 students to leave Denison High School Tuesday morning for a half-hour protest.

“Homophobes and racists should not teach,” read one sign of a protester.

Others spoke in favor of Holt that night at a previously scheduled school board meeting and said she was an advocate for minority students, especially with a program that helps high-achieving, non-white students attend Iowa State University for free.

“This is not what racism looks like,” retired Denison teacher Collette Huntley said.

The district announced Thursday that Holt will return to teaching and will “implement necessary changes” to “address the concerns of all involved.” The statement, released by Superintendent Mike Pardun, did not specify what those changes will be.

All district employees will get diversity and cultural training, and the district seeks to form a committee of students, teachers and administrators that will create a plan to make the Denison schools “free from cultural bias,” according to the district’s statement.

“As a district, we understand the significance of this situation, and regret the impact this has had on students, families, faculty, our district and community,” the statement says. “We remain committed to providing a safe learning environment for all students and staff.”

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