Front of the Glendale High School building on a day with overcast.
Glendale High School. (Photo by Dean Curtis)

In the wake of a Glendale High School teacher’s resignation and a student’s suspension following a recorded incident in which the teacher twice used the N-word, Springfield’s NAACP chapter wants a state review of the matter. 

“The responsible teacher must face appropriate disciplinary measures as to his state-issued teaching certificate to ensure accountability and prevent such incidents from occurring in the future,” Kai Sutton, president of the Springfield NAACP, said in a statement. 

The teacher, Kenneth Bowling, was placed on administrative leave on May 9 after a student recorded him twice using the N-word while discussing who can and cannot use the term. On May 15, he resigned, said Stephen Hall, Springfield Public Schools spokesman.

Bowling, who has not been named in any statements provided by Springfield Public Schools, is the teacher who resigned. He has been named in social media posts and in the video, during which a student can be heard saying, “Mr. Bowling, Mr. Bowling.” Bowling is no longer listed on the Glendale website staff directory. SPS spokesman Stephen Hall was asked May 15 if anyone named Kenneth Bowling is currently employed with the district. Hall said there is not anyone by that name currently employed by the district.

In the statement, Nimrod Chapel, Jr., president of the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP, said the teacher’s resignation means the only person who was disciplined with regard to the incident was Mary Walton. Walton is the 15-year-old student who was suspended for inappropriate use of an electronic device, according to an attorney representing her. 

“No student should bear the burden of enduring racial slurs and the subsequent trauma caused by such incidents in the classroom,” Chapel said in the release. “If this brave student, Mary Walton, had not captured this unlawful and abhorrent conduct, we would not be discussing the hate she endured today. We join the family in calling for a public apology to be issued to Ms. Walton, and acknowledgment of the harm caused in punishing the one person who sought to expose the teacher’s conduct.”

In the statement, the Missouri NAACP calls for the district to apologize for suspending the student and to expunge the punishment from Walton’s record. They echo requests made by attorney Natalie Hull.

Student returns after suspension

Hull said Friday Walton appreciates the NAACP is backing her in a request for an apology from the district and an expungement of the suspension from her record. 

Walton returned to school on May 17, following her three-day suspension, and Hull said she was “happy to get back” and resume her daily routine. 

As for NAACP requests for state review regarding the teacher, Hull said she and her client are not weighing in on matters regarding the teacher Walton recorded. 

On May 15, Hall released a statement doubling down Springfield Public Schools’ position on Walton’s suspension.

“Much speculation has occurred regarding student discipline related to a video recording of the unacceptable classroom incident. Student discipline is confidential, per federal law, and Springfield Public Schools cannot disclose specifics related to actions taken. 

“The student handbook is clear, however, on consequences for inappropriate use of electronic devices. Any consequences applied per the scope and sequence would also consider if minors are identifiable in the recording and what, if any, hardships are endured by other students due to a violation of privacy with the dissemination of the video in question. SPS is confident that the district appropriately and promptly handled all matters related to what occurred at Glendale. We want our schools to be safe and welcoming learning environments. When students have concerns, they should follow the appropriate steps for reporting.”

Hull has said that while her client recorded video the incident on her cell phone, Walton was not the one who shared the video on social media channels.

NAACP leader commends SPS, asks district to join call for state review

Sutton, in the NAACP release, said she commended the speed with which the district severed ties with the teacher. 

“However, it is imperative that we do not stop at termination,” Sutton said. “We call upon the school district to collaborate with the community and the NAACP in demanding a thorough review and disciplinary action from the (Missouri) Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. This incident should serve as a wake-up call for our educational system, highlighting the need for comprehensive anti-racism training and policies that prioritize the well-being of all students.” 

At the May 16 school board meeting, Kyler Sherman-Wilkins, Springfield NAACP chapter vice president, shared similar remarks, saying he was pleased to learn the teacher was no longer employed by SPS. 

“But I’m deeply disappointed, though frankly not surprised, that this even occurred at SPS,” Sherman-Wilkins said. “Now, to be fair, this is not a unique problem to Glendale High School, nor is it a unique problem to Springfield Public Schools. There’s a history of offensive discriminatory and anti-black behaviors and actions displayed by teachers and staff in public schools across the country, which is why DEI training and efforts to reduce racial bias and other types of biases are so very important. 

Sherman-Wilkins, a Missouri State University sociology professor, said that while he has faced challenges in his classrooms policing cell phone use and understood the need for rules regarding phone use, the student who recorded the incident should not have faced punishment for it. The district should have practiced enforcement discretion given that the student used her phone to record a racist incident, he said. 

He said the district, “has some explaining to do regarding how they choose to enforce policies and what, if any, carve-outs for policy violations exist.” 

The Daily Citizen efforts to contact Springfield Public Schools for comment on the NAACP statement on the afternoon of May 19, were not successful.

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