Community leaders are reeling from a video allegedly showing a McDowell High School teacher making a racist comment in class.
According to Assistant Superintendent Brian Oliver, the teacher has been placed on leave pending an investigation. McDowell County Schools released this updated statement Thursday:
“McDowell County Schools’ administration was made aware of an allegation that a McDowell High School staff member made an inappropriate racial remark. Upon learning of the allegation, the teacher was placed on leave and the district immediately initiated an investigation.
“All allegations of misconduct are taken seriously and are thoroughly investigated. The investigation into this allegation is ongoing and is being addressed in accordance with district policies.
“While the video is a significant part of the investigation, it is not the only part of the investigation and does not provide the entire story of what happened. There are several other important aspects to the investigation that have to be completed and reviewed, including interviews with those involved and witnesses. Because this matter involves an employee, the district is unable to provide additional information from the investigation at this time.
“In McDowell County Schools, we strive to create a safe and inviting school environment that facilitates student learning and achievement. MCS does not tolerate any form of unlawful discrimination or harassment, and the district has policies and processes in place to address these issues.”
In the video, which can be viewed at www.mcdowellnews.com, the teacher is seen with his arm around a student of color and says, “I’m a white man, so I can’t say n*****.” Other students can be heard chiming in before and after the remark. The version published online by The McDowell News mutes the word the teacher uses and blurs the face of the student. The McDowell News did view the original version.
Paula Swepson, coordinator for the West Marion Community Forum Inc., sent the video to the McDowell County Board of Education and Superintendent Mark Garrett when she became aware of the situation. The Forum works in the McDowell community combating inequities involving race and other social issues.
“We have been working with the schools for the past three years trying to inform him of what is going on in the school system,” Swepson said. “The video showed me that there is a lack of training with teachers and they are not properly trained to handle these situations.”
The teacher, according to Swepson, is Jack Jensen, who teaches math at McDowell High School.
“Mark Garrett said there was a conversation going on between two biracial students, and that’s how the conversation got started,” she said. “Garrett says there is more that the video doesn’t show. Yes we understand that, but the teacher humiliated him in front of his peers and held him against his will.”
Swepson said schools don’t see racial issues as a systemic problem, but rather isolated problems.
“I think he (the teacher) needs to be fired, because he didn’t care,” she said. “It goes back to the training of the teachers. They have been getting by with this forever. It is the culture of the teachers to say what they want in the classroom because they hold that power, but the students realize it was wrong. It is a common occurrence to my understanding. We don’t want people to feel comfortable about this. They don’t want to solve the issue, they want to dissect the incident.”
Swepson said a work meeting is set for January to issue a joint racial equity statement with the McDowell County Board of Education.
The McDowell News on Wednesday asked McDowell County Schools for information about Jensen that is available to the public by law.
According to the responding email, he was hired on Aug. 21, 2012 as a secondary math teacher. He was transferred from East McDowell Middle School to McDowell High School on June 30, 2014. His current salary as a 10-month employee is $5,200 a month. He was suspended with pay on Nov. 22, 2021.
The McDowell News attempted to contact Jensen but was unsuccessful by deadline.