BYRAM, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi educator will have to wait to see if he will be rehired after he was fired for reading a children’s book called “I Need a New Butt!” to a group of second graders.
Toby Price is trying to regain his job as assistant principal at Gary Road Elementary in the Jackson suburb of Byram in Hinds County. His employment appeal hearing started last week and resumed Monday, lasting about five hours, WJTV-TV reported.
The Hinds County School Board’s decision on Price’s employment is expected in about two months.
Price was initially suspended with pay but later fired after reading the book to young students over Zoom. The book, by Dawn McMillan, chronicles a child’s journey to find a new backside. It is illustrated with cartoons that show the character considering an armor-plated butt, a rocket butt and a robot butt.
In a statement after the hearing, Superintendent Delesicia Martin called the book “inappropriate.”
“First and foremost, the book contains statements and cartoon pictures regarding bodily anatomy, bodily functions and removing clothing to expose private areas of the body in various positions,” Martin said. “These statements and pictures are inappropriate for an educator to read and display to second graders, especially without advance notice to the teachers of the students.”
Teachers have been under increased scrutiny nationwide as advocates have pushed book challenges and bans in an attempt to restrict how students are taught certain subjects, particularly around racism, sexuality and gender.
During the first hearing, Price’s attorney listed other books in the school’s library that have similar themes or illustrations, including “Captain Underpants.”
Price described the book as “silly” and one that children could enjoy, the Clarion Ledger reported.
“The kids are in on the joke as they read it,” Price said.
However, if he were asked beforehand not to read it, Price said he would have followed that request.
Martin said educators must be extremely careful in what they say and do “especially in the presence of our impressionable children.”
“Yet, Mr. Price saw nothing wrong with reading a book that trivialized and made light of a character pulling its pants down, having others paint its nude buttocks and depicting an adult’s nude buttocks,” she said.
Elizabeth Maron, attorney for the school administration, asked whether Price was OK with reading books with students showing their private parts and encouraging students to copy that behavior or use language about butts or farts. He said no.
Price said his teaching and administrative style incorporates play and silliness, which are ways to engage students in learning. He has done other things, like rap in a series of videos to teach students vocabulary, he said.
This isn’t the first time Price has read silly books. He read the sequel to “I Need a New Butt!” in May 2020 for a virtual reading that was posted on the school’s Facebook page.
Martin noted that Price, in a March 1 statement, apologized for “poor judgment” in reading the book. But since then, Price has told reporters he believed in the appropriateness of the book, Martin said.
Price also has said he has never been disciplined, “not even for being late.” But, Martin said, during the hearing a prior employer said Price was not going to be offered a contract to return to Rankin County School District as a principal or in any other position and that he had resigned to avoid non-renewal of his contract.
Price said his decision to move to Hinds County schools was for his children. Joel Dillard, Price’s attorney, argued a non-renewal of contract doesn’t necessarily mean bad behavior by the educator.
Price has been an educator for two decades. He held the post at Gary Road Elementary for three years.
Martin said parents, not schools, should make decisions about when or how to talk to children about body parts or bodily functions.
“Educators who do not understand the significance of what they say and do in the presence of young, impressionable children, and who are not willing to take responsibility for their actions, cannot be a part of the education team that is responsible for educating our young children,” Martin said.