A southern Missouri teacher who oversaw a history class presentation in which a ninth-grader dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan has apologized for a "lapse of judgment" and is suspended indefinitely, the superintendent of the predominantly white district said Tuesday.
The Poplar Bluff student who dressed as a Klansman Friday was playing the villain in a skit about voter suppression during a presentation with other students about the 15th Amendment, Poplar Bluff district superintendent Scott Dill said. The amendment awarded voting rights to black men. Other groups in the class were assigned other amendments.
Dill said the teacher didn't know until right before the group performed that the student planned to dress as a Klansman, and that a split-second decision was made to allow the presentation to go ahead.
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"Obviously this was a poor choice, a terrible choice for the teacher to allow this to happen," Dill said. "There is no place for this in our public school or any place in society."
The teacher approached Dill later that day and told him what happened. A photo of the student dressed as a Klansman soon began circulating on social media.
The teacher was suspended indefinitely starting Sunday. The superintendent declined to discuss whether the student was disciplined, citing federal privacy laws. The student didn't appear to be acting with discriminatory intent, the district has said.
On Monday, Dill visited the class to read the suspended teacher's letter of apology.
"Because of my lapse in judgment, many of you were hurt and felt uncomfortable," the teacher's letter reads. "I never wanted that to happen. I think of my classes as my family, and I would never intentionally offend or hurt any of you."
Dill was joined Monday by Bishop Ron Webb of Poplar Bluff's Mt. Calvary Powerhouse Church. Webb is active in the Bridge the Gap movement, which aims to foster racial reconciliation and improve ties between law enforcement and communities. The 2,000-student district, which is 81 percent white and 12 percent black, is considering providing diversity and sensitivity training, Dill said.
"We tried to turn it into a learning experience for our school and to talk about the powerful context of some symbols," Dill said. "From this terrible circumstance, our goal is that we grow and learn."