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Denison High School students protest teacher's use of n-word

School Board places teacher on paid leave
Posted at 6:27 PM, Nov 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-20 13:53:28-05

DENISON, Iowa. (KMTV) — Students in Denison, Iowa say they want to see action from the school district. It all stems from allegations that a teacher said the n-word multiple times in a classroom.

Tuesday morning, students who say they've had enough walked out. On Tuesday evening, the school board put the teacher on paid administrative leave while an investigation takes place.

“They don't do anything about it, that's why they're all mad. You know, that's why I'm mad, there's nothing ever done about it," said freshman Wilnuse Riphan.

Riphan says events leading up to this student protest have frustrated her classmates for a while.

“We're hoping to have our voices heard and to have Mrs. Holt out of here,” said Riphan.

Students say they're upset with American history teacher Crystal Holt.

They say she used the n-word during a history lesson about the death penalty.

She explained her use of the word to a local radio station in an interview that was shared by her husband, Iowa State Representative Steven Holt, on Facebook.

Crystal Holt told the radio station the following:

“The case deals with racism and I asked why they put hate crimes on their board and one of the students said because in the reading it said he used pejorative terms. And another student in that group said what does ‘pejorative mean, and I said it means derogatory and a student said what does derogatory mean. And I said it means terms that are not nice to race and continued to try to explain that and I said he used the n-word and I said he used the word."

Students say they don't think she needed to use it--that they understood without the word.

“I get like it was like context context—but you could've said the ‘n-word’—you didn't have to say with a hard e-r," said Riphan.

Students from all grades walked out in protest of the situation.

They say this isn't the first time it's happened.

“All I know is that she has said this racial slur back in the past and then a few months—like—she's repeated herself for several years," said student Jade Wright.

Some want Holt gone.

“She should be fired because she had no right to say that," said student Summer Jewel.

The school's principal and superintendent eventually came and spoke with students.

Riphan said the word hurts.

“You know, you feel really small whenever you're here because you're just that one black girl in class—you know, I could say the n-word to you—because you're the only black girl, let me say the n-word to you,” said Riphan. “So it makes me feel great there's so many people willing to stand up for it."

But, despite the division the word creates, Riphan says her classmates’ support empowered her.

At a school board meeting Tuesday night, board members heard from both sides, those who felt action should be taken, and those who defended the teacher.

In the end, the board decided to put Holt on paid administrative leave while an investigation is conducted.