It was Read Across America week, and sophomores in Mississippi’s Hinds County School District were waiting for an administrator to read to them.
The clerk forgot it was her turn, said Toby Price, the deputy principal of Gary Road Elementary School in Hinds County, who was in his office at the time. He decided to fill in.
Mr Price, 46, quickly grabbed a book – “I need a new ass!” by Dawn McMillan, one of his kids’ favorites — and started reading it to the roughly 240 second-graders via Zoom.
Later that day, on March 2, the district superintendent, Delesicia Martin, called him to her office and told him he was on administrative leave, Mr. price. He was fired two days later, charged with violating the standards of conduct of the Mississippi Educator Code of Ethics.
In a letter to Mr Price, the inspector called the book “inappropriate.” She especially struggled with the references to farting in the story and how “the book described butts of various colors, shapes and sizes (eg: fireproof, bulletproof, bombproof).” Ms. Martin called Mr. Price “unprofessional” for selecting the book.
“I was expecting a letter,” said Mr. Price, who had worked for the district for three years. “I didn’t expect to be fired. I cried all the way home.”
Mr Price, who has been a teacher for 20 years, said he had hired a lawyer and planned to challenge the termination before the school board.
Ms. Martin and the five-member school board did not immediately respond to messages asking for comment on Friday. But Mr. Price’s termination brought swift criticism from children’s book authors and PEN America, a free speech organization fighting the ban on books.
In a letter, PEN America said that “by positioning book reading as a violation of ethics, the district implies that any educator under similar circumstances could be terminated” — a fear many teachers have been grappling with from last fall. Republican-led efforts to ban schools from teaching and discussing race, racism and other “divisive concepts.”
On the elementary school’s Facebook page, the grandmother of one of the school’s students posted a news story about Mr Price’s resignation, saying she planned to speak on his behalf before the school board and fight to get ‘his job back’ to get.
“My granddaughter heard him read the book and thought it was hilarious and not at all inappropriate!” wrote the grandmother.
Mr. Price said that was the reaction of students after reading the book. He remembered going into the hallway and was approached by students who thanked him for his choice.
“They loved it,” he said. “They all stopped me and said, ‘Mr. Price, that book was really good.’”
The Hinds County School District has approximately 5,500 students and 425 teachers and covers half a dozen towns near Jackson, Miss. More than 21 percent of the general population in Hinds County lives below the poverty line, well above the national average, according to Data USA.
Mr Price said it was particularly important to provide literacy classes at his school, where many children rely on free lunches or meals at a discounted price.
“We have a lot of unwilling readers,” he said. “I firmly believe that unwilling readers need the silly, funny books to hook them up.”
Released in 2012, “I Need a New Butt!” is marketed to children ages 4 to 8 and tells the story of a young boy looking for a new butt after he finds a “tear” in being and seeing his fears. it’s broken.
Mr Price said school leaders told him they were afraid they would get complaints from parents about the subject.
When he was called to the Chief Inspector’s office, he said that one of the administrators asked him, “Is this the kind of thing you find funny?”
Mr Price replied, “Well, I did before coming in here.”
He said he only wanted his job back so he could support his three children. His two oldest children – a 19-year-old daughter and an 18-year-old son – have severe autism.
“I’m tired. I’m stressed. I’m overwhelmed,” he said. “I have to work.”