| Fort Myers News-Press
An Island Coast High School teacher who allegedly told students that slaves were not whipped by white people and that the N-word, a racist slur, “just means ignorant” has been suspended with pay.
The Lee County school district is not confirming the name of the teacher, but spokesperson Rob Spicker confirmed Wednesday that the instructor is suspended with pay pending a reassignment to the district office.
The district is investigating three viral TikTok videos, which were allegedly taken during an Advanced Placement government course at the public high school in Cape Coral. The school’s website lists 10 social studies teachers, but does not list out the courses taught by each instructor.
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The News-Press has reviewed the videos but is not posting them with this story. The News-Press policy requires that it get permission from any person who took a photo or video before posting them.
The News-Press could not confirm the student’s full name, and the student declined comment when reached Wednesday.
The videos were taken in selfie mode by the student, who later posted them on the social media app TikTok.
Other students and the teacher can be heard in the background, but it is not clear whether anyone else in the room knew the videos were being recorded.
The clips range from about 28 seconds to 38 seconds in length, featuring pieces of a social studies class that lasts about 80 minutes.
Betsy Vaughn, the vice chair of the Lee County school board, spoke about the investigation process during a Tuesday evening meeting of the Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee.
She serves as the board liaison to the group and told The News-Press she used her end-of-meeting comments to address the situation that has garnered national attention.
Vaughn told the group that the teacher had been removed from the classroom as part of the district’s investigation, which is a fairly normal procedure when allegations are raised against an employee.
While Vaughn said it is “completely unfair” to judge someone on a few minutes of a full-class period, she said she was “disturbed” by the videos.
In one clip, the teacher can be heard saying that white people wouldn’t whip slaves. In another, the teacher incorrectly defines the N-word as another word for “ignorant,” not being “well read” or not being “well educated.”
“… In 60 seconds, there were two big pieces of misinformation that really, as an individual, concern me,” Vaughn said.
She also shared with the group that the student might also face potential discipline for recording and then sharing the videos online.
Under a section of the student Code of Conduct called “respect for self and others,” the district rules state that students “will refrain from recording, transmitting or posting photos or videos of any person(s) or school events.”
“We have our personal opinions on if he was justified or not justified,” Vaughn said.
Whatever consequences, if any, are needed, Vaughn said they will be dealt with by the school. Likely, the district’s executive director of school development for the high schools will oversee the process.
In this circumstance, student discipline would not be considered public record under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Social media users have questioned the need for an investigation and why the employee was not fired on the spot after a review of the videos. The process is dictated by the school district’s employee contracts, which are bargained by unions and district staff.
If someone is past the probationary stage of their contract, the due process rights of an employee kick into play, said Kevin Daly, the president of the Teachers Association of Lee County.
“It’s kind of an innocent until proven guilty thing,” Daly said.
When complaints about an employee are made, a cursory investigation will be done to figure out whether there is merit to any allegations made against the person. If there is merit in the complaint, district staff will decide whether a person should be reassigned to the district office while the investigation is completed.
“Most of the time, if it has to do with health, safety and welfare, they will reassign the employee,” Daly said. He added that sometimes teachers will be reassigned even if the complaint doesn’t hit on one those three factors.
This, he said, benefits everyone involved.
“It allows the district to conduct a thorough investigation. It removes the employee from a situation in a school where they may have had a problem,” Daly said. “It kind of keeps the groups and parties separate so the process can work out.”
Unless otherwise ordered, employees will maintain their pay and benefits during investigations.
During this phase of the process, students, teachers and other staff at a school will be interviewed, and supporting information such as school bus and campus hallway security footage and social media posts will be reviewed.
Spicker, the district spokesperson, confirmed that the district’s investigation team was at Island Coast High to collect statements Tuesday.
“It would be inappropriate to comment until the investigatory process is done,” he said about the process.
The information found in the investigation will then be put into a report, and the employee will be brought in for a meeting, called a predetermination hearing, to respond to the allegations.
Later, a decision will be made about whether the employee faces any consequences. Depending on the findings, an employee might not be sanctioned at all or could face penalties ranging from a letter of reprimand up to termination.
Certification concerns, if a teacher’s behavior warrants a sanction by the state, would be handled by the Florida Department of Education.
Various appeal options are also available to employees, but ultimately a termination would need to go before the school board for approval.
District and union staff reiterated that this incident is following the normal process.
Daly, mentioning a line he often uses as a union leader, said the “truth will bear out.”
“It will bear out in an orderly and organized and an appropriate fashion,” he said.