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Park Hill High School teacher who said the N-word to a student will retire, after threat of firing

Park Hill High School is the site of another racially-charged incident this month after a teacher repeated a racial slur at a student.
Park Hill High School
The incident sparked a backlash at Park Hill High School, with students calling for the teacher to be fired.

Park Hill School District officials told the high school teacher they were beginning the process of terminating him. He submitted his retirement the same day.

A teacher at Park Hill High School who repeated a racial slur at a student is retiring next week.

The teacher was placed on administrative leave earlier this month after using the N-word while questioning a student.

Students on social media identified the staff member as Stuart Sullinger, a white teacher at Park Hill High School. District spokeswoman Nicole Kirby confirmed that Sullinger was the teacher in question.

Sullinger could not be reached for comment.

Kirby said in an email to KCUR that Sullinger was notified on Feb. 16 that the district was starting the process “required by law” to terminate him. He submitted his retirement the same day, effective March 1.

The Park Hill school board approved Sullinger’s retirement at its meeting Thursday night.

The Kansas City Defender, a Black-owned news outlet, shared a video earlier this month showing Sullinger standing in the doorway of a classroom in a face-to-face confrontation with a Black student.

The district wrote to parents that a student used “racist, inappropriate language” and then a staff member repeated the same language while questioning the student. In the video, the student is heard repeatedly asking Sullinger to not use the N-word.

The incident sparked an online backlash and two days of student-led protests calling for Sullinger to be fired and expressing solidarity with the student who they said was suspended after the argument. An online petition calling for Sullinger’s termination has received more than 1,700 signatures.

The school district told KCUR it can’t divulge the nature of the student’s discipline, but The Kansas City Star reported on Wednesday that the student said he was suspended for 10 days and “will meet with officials to determine if he can return to school.”

At Thursday's board meeting, two people spoke up and called on the district to fire Sullinger rather than letting him retire.

“Some of you will have an impulse to center the teacher's feelings and avoid what you think is harsh judgment. I'll offer you this: The humanity of students of color, and in fact, all of your students, is at stake,” said Michael Rebne, a local teacher and member of SURJ KC’s education core. “There is nothing harsher than demanding Black people pay for the comfort and chosen ignorance and racism of this white teacher and of all white bystanders in this incident.”

Shereka Barnes, a candidate for the Park Hill School Board, said she was concerned that Sullinger may still receive his pension after retiring. She also called out Sullinger and another teacher who witnessed the incident for not better handling the situation.

“I hope that the school and the district does some looking at themselves and figure out a better way to de-escalate situations like that,” Barnes said.

Kirby said the district does not have control over Sullinger’s retirement with Missouri’s State Employees Retirement System. He will remain on administrative leave until March 1.

The incident comes after a group of students at Park Hill South High School in September circulated a petition that called to bring slavery back. The student who posted the petition, a biracial ninth grader, was expelled and the other three were suspended for 180 days.

Updated: February 24, 2022 at 4:37 PM CST
This story was updated to include information from Thursday night's board meeting.
More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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