London, Ont., teacher removed from class after using the N-word during a lesson

A high school teacher in London, Ont., has not been back in the classroom since using the N-word while reading song lyrics during a lesson on literary devices last week.

The incident happened last week during an English class at Saunders Secondary School

A teacher at Saunders Secondary School used the N-word while reading aloud song lyrics during a lesson, students say. (Kate Dubinski/CBC)

A high school teacher in London, Ont., has not been back in the classroom since using the N-word while reading song lyrics during an English class about metaphors and allusions last week. 

Students at Saunders Secondary School say the teacher was reading from the Black Eyed Peas song Where Is The Love? which has the N-word in one of the verses. 

"Instead of skipping over it or discussing it with the class, she just blatantly said it, as if it was a normal word," said Kayla Derbyshire, 16, a student in the Grade 12 college-level English class in which the word was said.

"One of the students got pretty upset and told her that what she said was not okay, and that it can't be said because it's obviously a word we shouldn't be throwing around, especially in a school setting where it could offend people." 

Unsatisfied with the reply from the teacher, who suggested the student was overreacting, the student reported the teacher to administrators, Derbyshire said. 

"You can't just throw that word around and hope that no one gets mad or no one says anything about it," Derbyshire said. "I am very surprised because I thought, of all people a teacher would not have said it and would have just skipped over the word and left it at that." 

Student well-being 'a priority'

Students say the teacher has not been back to school since the incident happened last Tuesday, Nov. 16.

CBC News is attempting to contact the teacher for comment before releasing that person's name. At the time of publication, the teacher had not been reached. 

I can't be surprised. I'm not shocked. This happens all the time- Alexandra Kane, Black Lives Matter London


When contacted by CBC News last week, the Thames Valley District School Board wouldn't say what discipline the teacher faced. On Monday when asked again, officials said the teacher was "removed from teaching duties" while an investigation is being conducted. 

"My expectation is that all staff are aware there is no justifiable reason to use racist words in a Thames Valley school," TVDSB Education Director, Mark Fisher, said in a statement. 

"Using words that reflect a history of white colonialism, oppression, and racism, even in the context of deconstructing art or music, can create traumatic, emotional triggers for racialized students. The Thames Valley District School Board is committed to equitable outcomes for all students." 

Speaking out praised

It can be difficult to stand up and speak out, particularly against an authority figure such as a teacher, said Alexandra Kane, who speaks for Black Lives Matter London. 

"I'm proud of the strength and the fortitude of those students who came forward. It shows us that what we are doing is right," Kane said. 

But Kane said she's not surprised that another teacher has used the N-word in a classroom. 

"I can't be surprised. I'm not shocked. This happens all the time," Kane said. "You can still do your lesson, you can still use the song, just don't use the word. Delete it, omit it. It's left off on the radio, it can be left out of your lesson. It does nothing to advance the plot."

Another incident last month

The incident comes less than a month after another teacher uttered the N-word in a Grade 8 English class during a discussion about the Agatha Christie novel And Then There Were None.

In that incident, on Oct. 27, a teacher at St. Kateri Catholic Elementary School spoke about the murder mystery, which was published in 1939, and warned that it contains language no longer used, including the N-word, which she said in full. 

A 13-year-old in that class, who identifies as Black and is of Caribbean descent, was shocked by the use of the word, and said some of her classmates were as well. Her mother complained to the school. 

It's uncertain if that teacher faced discipline. The principal said the teacher's intention was to have a "frank discussion" about the impact of words and how language changes over time. 

The school boards, as white-led institutions, have to come up with a way to remedy these instances and to hold their employees to a higher standard, Kane said. 

The TVDSB is the process of developing "Guidelines on the Non-Use of Racial and other Slurs and Epithets" for educators, which is set to be released to all staff in the coming months. 

"We have been working hard to develop a document to provide teachers with guidance that makes it crystal clear to everyone that racist language is never appropriate at school," Fisher said. "As part of our ongoing commitment to professional learning, TVDSB staff participated in mandatory anti-racism training on November 12."