Substitute teacher accused of saying that MLK killed himself is no longer employed in Wake

A Wake County substitute teacher has resigned amid allegations she told 10-year-old minority students that they were marked for prison because of their clothing and that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. killed himself.

The Wake County school system began investigating after several parents at Rand Road Elementary School in Garner accused a substitute music teacher of making offensive comments in class on Friday. The teacher told the district Sunday that she no longer wanted to be in Wake’s database as a substitute teacher, according to Lisa Luten, a Wake schools spokeswoman.

Billy Byrd, a Rand Road parent whose complaints against the teacher went viral on social media, said Tuesday he’s glad that the woman will no longer be working with students in Wake.

“I don’t want anybody who is that irresponsible to be teaching in the school system,” Byrd said.

The teacher could not be reached for comment.

Byrd said he knew something was wrong on Friday when he picked up his 10-year-old son Nathan from Rand Road. Byrd said he was shocked by what his son told him.

The substitute teacher was upset, Byrd said, because some students weren’t listening to her directions. He said the teacher began talking about President Donald Trump and told the students that they weren’t real Christians if they didn’t support the president.

It escalated, Byrd said, into the teacher telling the students that Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t assassinated but had died by suicide.

“We had to draw the line there,” Nathan said Tuesday. “All the things she was telling us were completely wrong. We had to tell her, ‘Nothing you’re saying is making any sense.’”

Byrd said he’s “eternally grateful” that his son stood up to the teacher and challenged her about the civil rights leader’s death.

Byrd said the teacher became more frustrated and accused the students of harassing her. He said the teacher ultimately told Nathan and several other male students of color they were marked for prison because of what they were wearing.

“We felt discriminated,” Nathan said. “But at the same time, we can’t let her get to us, because what she’s saying was not true. We had to stand up for ourselves.”

Byrd said Nathan had on the athletic apparel he had worn to play basketball the night before. Byrd said that Nathan was excited to show his classmates that he had played for a great team in a Knightdale youth basketball league.

“For her to assassinate his character because of what he was wearing is sickening,” Byrd said.

Byrd said he immediately went to Rhonda Jones, the school’s principal, on Friday to complain about what had happened. Byrd said Jones, who he praised as being a good principal, told him that parents of several other students in the class had also complained.

Luten said that as soon as the district learned of the allegations it “froze” the teacher’s employment status, meaning no Wake school could hire her as a substitute while the complaint was investigated. The substitute had been working in Wake since September 2017, Luten said.

In addition to complaining to the district, Byrd posted his allegations on Facebook. As of Tuesday morning, the post had been shared 469 times and drawn 339 comments.

“To wear athletic apparel while being BLACK is obviously a MARK for long term imprisonment these days by racist radicals portraying to be godly and upright conservative Christians,” Byrd wrote in the Facebook post.

Byrd said he’s hopeful the incident will lead to changes in hiring practices that improve the quality of substitute teachers who are picked.

“I can no longer let people like this slide by and go to other schools teaching students other misinformation,” he said.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.