(Photo by Shannon Cay)

The student who took footage of a Glendale High School teacher twice using a racial slur during class is asking Springfield Public Schools administrators to reduce the suspension she was given for using her phone to record him.

Mary Walton, 15, also wants an apology from the school district, according to an attorney who is representing Walton. Kate Welborn, Walton’s mother, said in a statement issued by attorney Natalie Hull that Glendale administrators cited the SPS student handbook policy regarding inappropriate use of electronic devices as grounds for the suspension.

The school district does not comment on individual student discipline issues, said Stephen Hall, SPS spokesman. 

Walton was informed on May 12 that she would be suspended for three days after recording the teacher saying the N-word twice in less than a minute. The teacher was leading a discussion about who can and can’t say the word. Walton said the teacher said the word several times before she pressed record on her phone, according to Hull. 

The Glendale geometry teacher was placed on administrative leave on May 9, after the recording of him saying the word began to circulate on social media platforms. 

“We are aware of a Glendale teacher using offensive, derogatory language during class today,” Joshua Groves, the high school’s principal, wrote in a letter to Glendale families and staff on May 9. “A video of the comments is being circulated and we have received several calls from concerned parents. I want you to know that the comments expressed in the video are inappropriate, inexcusable and do not meet the professional standards for Springfield Public Schools employees.”

Maximum punishment levied on student

As the incident played out during the 55-second recording, Walton pointed the camera up from her desk toward the teacher, who demanded the student, “Put your phone away.” 

Walton responded, “No.” The teacher then told her, “Then go to the office.” Walton cannot return to classes at Glendale until Wednesday unless her suspension is reduced, Hull said in a statement to the Daily Citizen. 

“The school policy of disciplining students to teach them to behave in the appropriate manner is not in line with their own actions,” Hull, the family attorney, said in a statement. “Mary saw a teacher do something wrong and she documented it. Language can be harmful, and Mary captured proof of her teacher, a person who is supposed to protect children, harming them through his use of a racial slur. If he had been hitting a student — or worse — would the school have reacted the same? Frankly, this school is exercising a chilling effect on all of the students by sending the message that they will get in trouble if they capture evidence of their teachers doing something wrong.”

A three-day out-of-school suspension is the maximum punishment for a first offense of inappropriate use of an electronic device, according to the SPS student handbook. Punishment options also included a conference or detention. “Inappropriate use” includes “using an electronic device to record, publish or display audio or visual images of events involving faculty, staff or other students in or around school premises, without approval of school personnel, and the event that is recorded, published or displayed is not ‘confidential,’” according to the handbook.

Full text of the Springfield Public Schools rule related to inappropriate use of an electronic device 

Class I Inappropriate Use of Electronic Devices is defined as “the act of using an electronic device to record, publish or display audio or visual images of events involving faculty, staff or other students in or around school premises, without approval of school personnel, and the event that is recorded, published or displayed is not ‘confidential.’ The prohibited conduct includes such things as audio or visual recording of faculty or staff in the classroom; acts of violence; disruptions to the school environment; or, other acts prohibited by the District’s Disciplinary Guidelines. 

“The term ‘confidential’ includes, but is not limited to an audio, video or photographic recording of faculty, staff, students or other persons which is recorded without the advance knowledge of all persons who are recorded and/or which is recorded: (1) in a location where any person who is recorded has a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a restroom, locker room or other location in or around school premises; and/or, (2) during or in conjunction with an extra-curricular or school activity; and/or (3) on a District school bus or other vehicle which transports District students; and/or, (4) which contains an image of a portion of a person’s body over which a reasonable person would have an expectation of privacy, even if the person consented to the recording.”

The 2022-2023 SPS student handbook is available online.

Students are allowed to have cell phones, pagers, PDAs, headphones and iPods or MP3 players “as long as they are not disruptive to the educational process or in violation of site use procedures,” the handbook states. 

Cory Matteson

Cory Matteson moved to Springfield in 2022 to join the team of Daily Citizen journalists and staff eager to launch a local news nonprofit. He returned to the Show-Me State nearly two decades after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Prior to arriving in Springfield, he worked as a reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star and Casper Star-Tribune. More by Cory Matteson