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Ohio teacher suspended indefinitely for racist comment

6:04 PM, Dec 30, 2013   |    comments
President Barack Obama listens to a student Oct. 25, 2013, during a visit to a classroom at Pathways in Technology Early College High School, in Brooklyn, N.Y. (Photo: Mandel Ngan, AFP/Getty Images)
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FAIRFIELD, Ohio - A suburban Cincinnati teacher, suspended indefinitely without pay a week ago after making racially insensitive remarks, has not yet requested a hearing to contest the matter, and the head of the Cincinnati NAACP said Monday that he's very interested in the outcome.

In early December an African-American student told his science teacher, Gil Voigt of Fairfield Freshman School, that he would like to become president. Voigt, who is white, is accused of telling him, "We do not need another black president."

The incident occurred Dec. 3, and other students present corroborated the student's version of events, according to a report from Assistant Superintendent Roger Martin of the Fairfield City School District north of Cincinnati, who conducted a disciplinary inquiry on the matter.

"We have not received any (response) as of today," said Gina Gentry-Fletcher, spokeswoman for the 9,500-student district where almost 1 of every 6 students is black. Voigt, who has taught in the district for 14 years, was notified by mail Dec. 26 of his right to a hearing to appeal his suspension if he responds to Fairfield district officials within 10 days of notification.

The 60-year-old teacher faces the prospect of dismissal for his remarks. He has not responded to repeated messages from The Cincinnati Enquirer seeking comment.

"I was extremely offended by his remark, and that is putting it mildly," said Ishton Morton, president of Cincinnati's NAACP chapter. "We are extremely interested in knowing what will happen to the teacher."

Other incidents from years ago, including another racist comment, should have been dealt with more aggressively. But rules in the district's labor contract hampered such action, said Balena Shorter, Fairfield's only black school board member.

"It's abusive. It's the job of teacher to enhance the dreams of kids and not to hamper them," Shorter said. She blamed the district's earlier teacher contracts, which stipulated how complaints were investigated and resolved; she considers the present contract, signed in 2011, to be more effective.

A review of Voigt's personnel file, which The Enquirer obtained through an Ohio public records request, shows he was warned about his comments to another black student in 2008. In April of that year, Voigt was accused of directing a laser pointer at the student and referring to him as "African-American Rudolph," according to an April 4, 2008, letter in his file from the principal at the school.

Also in 2008, he was warned to limit his use of school technology to educational purposes though no further details were recorded in a Nov. 3 letter from the school's new principal that fall.

In 2012, Voigt received a verbal warning after being accused of calling a student "stupid" and belittling him and telling other students they were being "gay."

Last month he received a written warning for failure to use the adopted curriculum.

Voigt disputed the most recent accusation against him, according to the district's investigation, which was prompted because of a complaint from a parent: Voigt said the student, whom he claimed did not excel academically and was troublesome in class, had misquoted him.

During a meeting with Martin, the assistant superintendent, the teacher contended that he stated to the student and others nearby, "I think we can't afford another president like Obama, whether he's black or white."

But 10 students were interviewed during the district investigation, this year's principal of Fairfield Freshman School, Larissa Smith, wrote in a memo to Martin. Six said they weren't present during the verbal exchange after the 1:30 p.m. dismissal bell Dec. 3, and four backed the student's account of Voigt's remarks.

"I do believe Mr. Voigt made the statement, 'We don't need another black president' to a group of diverse students," she wrote.

Though Voigt, who makes $73,566 a year, has been a Fairfield teacher since 2000, he has taught 15 years in other schools: seven years in North Carolina, two years in Florida and six years in Cincinnati Public Schools.

Contributing: Sue Kiesewetter, The Cincinnati Enquirer

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