Members of the Asian American community in Wausau, Wisconsin, are outraged that the school district has put a teacher it admits used racist and sexist language back in the classroom.
“While a preponderance of the evidence shows that Mr. Perkins did not engage in harassing or discriminatory behavior, he did engage in insensitive and unprofessional conduct,” the district superintendent wrote in a letter this week.
“Witnesses indicate that he did use language that could be insensitive to students of different protected classes, including race and sex, but that language does not rise to the level of discrimination or harassment.”
An open letter signed by Asian American leaders in Wausau—which is 81 percent white according to census data, but has a large Hmong-Lao population—said they were outraged by the reinstatement of high school band teacher Robert Perkins.
“Despite corroborating statements confirming Mr. Perkins’ use of anti-Asian, racist slurs such as ‘chink’ and ‘ching chong,’ as well as statements from other witnesses that Mr. Perkins’ conduct caused unease among students from protected classes, the WSD investigator still found no grounds for a determination of harassment,” the letter reads.
“This decision sends a strong message that using racist, sexist, and homophobic slurs are permissible, so long as they made are in good faith, and that is just unacceptable to us.”
The school district’s letter, which summarized its internal investigation into a student complaint about Perkins, said that “all students report that Mr. Perkins uses humor to engage students and create a ‘fun’ environment.”
It then went on to say, somewhat confusingly, that while Perkins does say things that causes students “unease,” the students also believe he creates a “safe space” and “does not meant to harm anyone.”
The student who complained told the investigator he believes Perkins knows what he doing and that students will “cover for him” because they like him.
At a school board meeting this week, several students spoke out in support of Perkins, who was named Teacher of the Month in January, and urged the district to reinstate him.
Perkins has not publicly commented on the situation. The father of the boy who complained said his son was so upset he had not been in school for two weeks.
“When I saw it in my son’s eyes as he’s crying on the floor, it broke my heart that a grown man can do this to my son,” Tha Vongphakdy told WAOW.