Use the n-word in front of kids, and tenure still has your back? | Editorial

Posted Sep 5, 2019

In an incredible feat of mental acrobatics, a state arbitrator just reinstated a tenured teacher who used the n-word in front of kids.

Even a relatively new law aimed at helping districts remove teachers like this can’t prevent every bad decision. Let’s break down the logical leaps, for those who strain to understand why a man who used a racist slur still belongs in front of children.

First, science teacher Bruce Bassetti – who is white – said this epithet under his breath, to himself, after being provoked by a student, the arbitrator, Peter Adomeit, argues.

Kids in his 7th grade class at Penns Grove Middle School overheard him say “something to the effect of, ‘I’m done with these n******,” or ‘I’m not trying to deal with these n******,’” according to the decision.

And what if we fired every teacher who said racist things?

"To uphold this termination would create a new common law of teacher termination: “If you so much as breathe to yourself the word ‘n,’ with no intention to communicate it to others, but are overheard by some students, even if you never intended them to hear, even if you have never said 'n' to students in 14 years, your intent is irrelevant, and your spotless record is irrelevant, and you shall be terminated for the first offense,” Adomeit wrote.

Imagine that: Being left with no teachers who said the n-word. Think of the children.

Next, Adomeit argues that even though the teacher’s denial isn’t credible, he didn’t lie. He simply forgot he used the slur, because he muttered it to himself.

“These fleeting thoughts, self-articulated, are stored in short-term memory,” Adomeit wrote, citing no scientific evidence. Under this arbitrator’s theory, “not remembering what he said to himself is understandable and hardly unusual.”

Right. Who hasn’t said a racial slur out loud, then immediately forgotten about it?

And Bassetti’s position all along was that he never said the n-word at all – not that he said it, then forgot. It’s as if the arbitrator had no choice but to believe the students, but thought he’d try his hand at defense attorney anyway.

Adomeit does acknowledge the particular offensiveness of the “nuclear bomb of racial epithets." But he doesn’t use this to discuss the harm to students.

Instead, his point is that the assistant principal, who is black, was emotionally biased when hearing Bassetti’s attempted defense – that he could not have used the n-word, because the student who had aggravated him was white.

So what? The arbitrator didn’t find Bassetti’s story credible either. And were there African American students also in the class? It should be part of this record, given that Bassetti raised the white-kid defense.

Regardless, do we want to teach white kids poisonous language? What could possibly go wrong, in this racially diverse school?

The bottom line is, the arbitrator agreed that Bassetti used the racist slur. Yet he still argues the teacher is the real victim, ordering the district to reinstate him and compensate him financially for his suspension.

“No student said he or her was unsafe,” Adomeit wrote, while “the impact on Mr. Bassetti’s career would be devastating.”

No punishment necessary, apparently, unless you inflict bodily injury on a kid. Adomeit even goes further, arguing the conduct was not “unbecoming,” and even more mystifyingly, that “Mr. Bassetti is not a racist.”

We’re not sure how this man can decide that. At issue is a racist slur, for which there should be zero tolerance in any workplace, let alone a school. The district has vowed to contest this in court, but there’s an easier, cheaper remedy.

“He used the n-word, the students heard him, and he should not be there teaching,” said Salem County NAACP President Nelson Carney Jr. “It’s going to cause a hostile environment. They’re not going to have any respect for him. The best thing for him to do is resign.”

Yes. It’s as simple as that.

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