Opinion: Firing Thole will not solve Mason’s problem

Asia Porter | Editor-in-Chief

Upon hearing a Mason teacher had threatened a black student with lynching, I was appalled.

The connection between lynchings and blacks, in my mind, is a concept that is fairly apparent to Americans, but even if the average citizen is unaware of this weak point in our nation’s history, it is a connection that a social studies teacher should undoubtedly be able to draw.

Renee Thole could draw this connection; however, she failed to draw it prior to making the threat. The story exemplified the power of not thinking before speaking and, more dangerously, prejudice.

Mason City Schools initially ordered Thole to attend cultural training but later placed her on administrative leave and put a letter of reprimand in her file. For many, this was not sufficient.

Many want her fired. I do not.

In the statement released by the district, Mason defended their decision to not fire Thole, citing her previously clean record. If the district were to go back and fire her now, their intentions would not be pure. Mason would be firing her to avoid negative press rather than recognizing what she said was racist and genuinely finding it to be unacceptable.

Furthermore, Mason is facing an issue that is greater than this one teacher’s comments. This incident showed that the district is not the inclusive district it is made out to be on Twitter. This incident showed that people, whether it be students or teachers or administrators, have hidden prejudices. While I would not have complained if this teacher were fired right when the incident happened, it would not have solved anything. The sad thing is, some people will never recognize there is an issue until some drastic measure happens. This was our drastic measure.

In order to remediate this issue, we need to be proactive rather than reactive, attacking the source, prejudice and ignorance, rather than bandaging the situation with press releases and lack luster apologies.

The best way to apologize is to let your actions show you are sorry. The community needs to see evidence that the district is actively addressing racism in Mason rather than reading emails that say it is.

Thole is only now attending cultural training. Everyone claims Mason is this incredibly diverse district, yet teachers are not required to attend training to learn how to interact with the supposed diverse student body.

Making such training mandatory would make students feel valued. I have attended Mason my entire life. I have been asked once what it is like being a black student in a white district, and not a single school board member, principal nor superintendent was present for this discussion. So, when I see my district saying they are dedicated to creating an inclusive learning environment for students, I do not believe it, because in order to do that, you have to communicate with the individuals you are trying to include.

And, let’s not forget Tanisha Agee-Bell, the mother of the boy in Thole’s class and more than decade-long member of the MCS Diversity Council who went to the January 5 school board meeting to speak about what happened to her son. Agee-Bell was asked to speak in private after the meeting was over. Mason’s press releases state the district will not shy away from messy conversations, but their actions show otherwise.

Firing Thole would have some purpose. It would send a message that racist comments are not tolerated; however, I would also argue the national backlash the district received in wake of this incident already did that. Firing her does not even scratch the surface of the effort that needs to be dedicated to this issue. Racism, ignorance and prejudice are real and exist in Mason, and it is going to take a lot more than taking away a woman’s job to fix that.