The Kankakee School Board voted unanimously on Monday to fire first-grade math teacher John Donovan after several students recorded him calling a black student the n-word, sparking student outrage and families in the Illinois school district.
Videos of the incident, secretly recorded on October 20 by several students in the class, show Donovan engaged in an argument with a 15-year-old student, in front of the class and a second video of the recent incident between the two online broadcasts posted l teenager questioning teacher for allegedly throwing a book at him in September.
Kankakee School District Superintendent Dr. Genevra Walters told CNN that neither the school principal, her human resources department, nor herself were aware of the book-throwing incident. before the last confrontation between the pupil and the teacher. She also said the district “does not have any information that the book made contact with the student.”
The teenager’s mother, Geraldine Nelson, said the school‘s deputy head left her a voicemail after the September incident saying the teacher would apologize to her son for throwing the book at him . Asked by CNN, Walters says the vice principal shared information from the report the teenager made with administrators with his mother, but Walters says she doesn’t know if a voicemail was left.
In the video, the student can be seen starting to walk out of the classroom, but Donovan calls him a “f**king n***er” before the student leaves. Laughter is heard in the classroom, and Donovan shrugs and says, “I’m losing my job anyway.
Donovan reportedly expelled the student last month for using his cellphone during class. When the teen started leaving without picking up his books, Donovan threw a book at him and kicked him in the leg, his family’s attorney told a school board meeting.
Geraldine Nelson told CNN she was disappointed to first find out the teacher had used the racial slur when her son called her instead of the school administrators.
The teen tells CNN there have been no previous incidents between him and the teacher and says he reported the book-throwing incident “several times” to school administrators.
“If a teacher is ready to… throw something at a student, who knows what they’re ready to do,” family attorney Kevin O’Connor told CNN.
“There’s no excuse for saying that word, especially to a 15-year-old,” the teen’s mother told CNN affiliate WBBM. O’Connor told CNN he was referring the two incidents between the teenager and the teacher to local prosecutors for a criminal investigation, but was still gathering information about the encounters.
Walters formally recommended that the school board terminate Donovan on Monday “due to the use of a racial slur toward an African-American student,” according to board records.
Regarding the previous incident in September, the teenager’s lawyer said the book hit the teenager in the leg. Walters says the district is now also investigating the book-throwing incident and why administrators weren’t told about the incident sooner.
Once school officials were made aware of the video of Donovan using a racial slur towards the teenager, Donovan was escorted off school grounds and immediately placed on paid leave pending a full investigation. , according to Walters’ initial statement.
The video sparked outrage from parents in the school district. They immediately called for the teacher to be fired before social media took the message to a national audience. Walters told CNN that the district first had to suspend Donovan while he conducted his investigation and could not simply fire him as some community members wanted.
“We have to give the student and the teacher due process, and we have to follow the Illinois school code when we fire a licensed teacher,” Walters told CNN.
CNN has reached out to Donovan for comment.
“I felt scared, nervous,” the 15-year-old told WBBM, adding that no one of any race had ever called him that word.
Nelson says his son is still processing the incident but has returned to school. Despite her son returning to school, Nelson says she is considering allowing her son to take online classes.
Kankakee High School has an approximately 44% black enrollment, according to US News 2022 Best High School Rankings.
Superintendent Walters also said mental health issues and teacher shortages have plagued public education, and while it’s disheartening for everyone involved, “the root of the problem needs to be addressed systemically.”
She says it’s important for students to see teachers who look like them and share similar life experiences in order to avoid incidents like this in the future.
Following initial public outrage, the school district released a statement on Facebook in response to the “inaccurate information” and criticism of the administration’s handling of the incident. Walters says she understands the outrage, but the public should know Donovan was only paid two days before the school board acted on the firing recommendation.
Walters said that prior to this incident, there were “other things going on with a lot of other different people” due to the mental health issues students and faculty have been experiencing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Covid-19. But that, according to Walters, “was just the most glaring example of what we’ve been going through for some time.”
In a written statement to CNN, Kankakee School Board President Barbara Wells said, “The entire board was horrified, especially our African American members…He disgraced himself and he dishonored all that teaching stands for.”
Wells added that the council would soon begin holding community forums to promote healing and reconciliation in the community.
Superintendent Walters visited students at the school after the outcry over the incident. Walters says she wanted to personally make sure the students were emotionally okay after the incident. She said the diverse group of students she spoke with “were all surprised” that the racial slur was used and would not have expected to hear a teacher refer to a student in this way.
Walters says the laughter heard by students in the video was the result of students saying they were nervous and shocked. “They just couldn’t believe it,” Walters said.
After the board officially terminated Donovan, the family’s attorney told WBBM that was just the first step and that the school district should have done more to protect Nelson after the initial incident in September.
“I want everyone who was aware of this incident – whether it’s the deputy principal, the principal or some of those board members – I want them to be called to the table to find out what they knew. ; why they didn’t call the police when he was beaten by this teacher by throwing a book at him; why they didn’t call DCFS [Department of Children and Family Services]said attorney O’Connor.