The Hinds County School Board met Thursday evening in closed session to determine whether to reinstate an assistant principal fired last month for reading a children’s book about buttocks to students.
The board has not yet announced whether it reached a decision or what decision it reached behind closed doors, saying the results will be sent to the employee’s attorney.
Toby Price, who worked at Gary Road Elementary School in Byram, was terminated March 3 for reading “I Need a New Butt!” to second graders over Zoom. The book has a recommended reading age of 6 to 10 by its publisher.
Board members received and reviewed a hearing report, transcripts and exhibits to decide whether to uphold the decision of Superintendent Delesicia Martin to fire Price or amend her decision.
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Board Chair Linda Laws said a decision would not be made public Thursday evening. Instead, a written response will be sent to Price and his attorney, she said.
Laws and other members of the board did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday about whether the board made a determination during executive session.
Before the closed session, Price and the school district were given time to tell the board why it should rule in their favor.
The educator wrote a poem titled “Mr. Price’s Final Rebuttal” to address the board. His understanding about what happened, how the situation has affected him and a request for members to think about their decision were delivered through rhymes.
“Price’s work in education lasted almost twenty years / All it took was one silly book to end his career,” Price said in his poem. “Giving that kind of power to one single person / Will only cause education and teaching to worsen.”
Attorney Elizabeth Maron, who represents the district, said the book encourages unacceptable behavior in a school environment. Price claims the book is funny and gets students interested in reading, but Moran said good educators can read books that don’t “fall to the lowest common denominator.”
Attorney Joel Dillard, who represents Price, said the school board has the choice to end the situation, which includes overruling the superintendent’s decision or changing the decision to give Price a written reprimand.
If the board upholds Martin’s decision, the case could end up in court, Dillard said, adding the court would look at the evidence to determine if there was a specific reason for Price’s termination. The district has cited violation of professional standards as the reason Price was fired.
Martin and Maron declined to comment Thursday evening after the closed session.
After the meeting, Price said he has stayed busy volunteering at his youngest daughter’s private school for students with special needs and working on a book about a monkey named Tytus.
Dillard said if the board reinstates Price, he is expected to get some back pay and have a contract for next school year.
New York nonprofit PEN America, whose goal is to support free expression, is calling for Price’s reinstatement. It started a petition and sent a letter to the school board in March, and followed up with another letter ahead of the board’s Thursday meeting.
The group reiterated there was not an objective and enforceable standard Price violated, and the district is setting up a standard for any book not to be read if it includes unacceptable behavior.
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