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High school teacher fired after using racial slur against student

<i>WBBM</i><br/>The 15-year-old student said he was shocked to hear the racial slur come from his teacher's mouth.
The 15-year-old student said he was shocked to hear the racial slur come from his teacher's mouth.

By Jermont Terry

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    KANKAKEE, Illinois (WBBM) — A high school teacher in Kankakee was fired Monday night after being caught on video calling one of his students the N-word in class.

The 15-year-old student said he was shocked to hear the racial slur come from his teacher’s mouth – and was then quickly offended by how easily it rolled off the teacher’s tongue in front of a crowded classroom.

As CBS 2’s Jermont Terry reported, parents Monday night sounded off to the board of Kankakee School District 111. They packed the gymnasium to find out just how the school board would move forward in light of the video that showed the chain of events.

The video was recorded by a student. It runs for just 12 short seconds, but it shows Kankakee High School algebra teacher John Donovan making a racial slur after Donovan kicked sophomore Michael Nelson Jr. out of class.

Nelson: “He called me a n*****.”

Terry: “And what did you do after that?”

Nelson: “I did nothing – I just left the classroom.”

But Nelson said he felt hurt by the words from his algebra teacher.

Nelson: “I was afraid; nervous.”

Terry: “You used the word ‘afraid.’ Why afraid?”

Nelson: “Because the word has never been used to me by a white man, or a Black man, or any type of race or person ever said that to me.”

The video went viral, and parents became outraged. But none was more outraged than Nelson’s mother, Geraldine Nelson.

“There’s no excuse for saying a racial slur – especially to a 15-year-old,” she said. “No excuse.”

Kankakee High School parents demanded Donovan be fired immediately – but last Thursday, the Kankakee School District placed the teacher on paid leave. The board explained Monday night they need to investigate and provide the teacher “due process.”

“We acknowledge that there’s absolutely nothing that any student can do to deserve having that word used against them,” said Kankakee School District 111 Supt. Dr. Genevra Walters.

Yet after reviewing the vide, and talking to students and the teacher, the board voted to terminate Donovan immediately.

The teen’s attorney says that is only the first step. He claims the district failed to react in the first incident in September when the same teacher threw a book at Nelson.

“I want everybody who knew about that incident – whether it’s the assistant principal, the principal, or some of these board members – I want them called to table to find out what they knew; why they didn’t they call the police when he was battered by this teacher by throwing a book at him; why they didn’t call DCFS,” said attorney Kevin O’Connor.

The superintendent pointed out Monday night that despite the firing, this incident has left students looking at teachers differently – and it’s something they must work to overcome.

The teen’s attorney says the district needs to figure out how a teacher who can easily speak such a slur was hired in the first place.

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