A Hinds County educator fired for reading a children’s book titled “I Need a New Butt!” to second-graders defended his decision to read the book during a Monday termination appeal hearing, saying it’s a silly book that children enjoy.
“The kids are in on the joke as they read it,” said Toby Price, who was assistant principal at Gary Road Elementary School in Byram, about “I Need a New Butt!” by Dawn McMillan
However, if he were asked beforehand not to read it, Price said he would have followed that request.
Price was terminated earlier this month for reading the book to second graders over the video conferencing platform Zoom.
Monday was the second day of hearings at the Hinds County School District office in Raymond.
During the first hearing on March 21, Superintendent Delesicia Martin explained problems with the book and reasons for Price’s firing.
In a March 3 letter to Price, she said reading the book caused “unnecessary embarrassment,” and showed “a lack of professionalism and impaired judgment.”
During testimony, the superintendent said the book was inappropriate because it showed pictures of and contained language about human buttocks and showed character in violation of school rules.
Price said he stepped in to read the book to students after another principal was unable to attend the meeting.
He said he chose a book that was the most appropriate among others in his office. Price said the other books available to him were nonfiction, teaching-related or were not age appropriate.
Price said he was not aware of any complaints about the book by other teachers or parents.
Elizabeth Maron, attorney for the school administration, asked whether Price could have gone to the library to get another book or gotten one from someone else.
She also asked if he 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, to which 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.
This isn’t the first time Price has read silly books. I have read the sequel to “I Need a New Butt!” in May 2020 for a virtual reading that was posted on the Gary Road Elementary School Facebook page.
Joel Dillard, Price’s attorney, presented as evidence several books with pictures or language of butts or characters breaking school rules. I have pointed out these books are similar to “I Need a New Butt!” and are available at the school library.
Three books in the “No, David!” series by David Shannon were shown as examples of books available to students through the library. In the books, the main character is shown running through the street with his buttocks showing or doing other school rule-breaking activities.
Although the books show characters breaking school rules, Price said the books can be used to teach children how to follow them. He will often ask students questions about what the character could have done better, like talk to an adult and ask for help.
Price said he has done this while reading “I Need a New Butt!”
“We pointed out his mistakes while we read,” he said.
Last to testify was Amanda Stocks, a Rankin County School District human resources employee, who was subpoenaed to talk about Price’s previous employment with that district, which ended in 2019.
Stocks said Price’s employment contract was likely not renewed because of issues relating to job performance that she did not specify. Price submitted a letter of resignation and the district accepted it.
Price said his decision to move to Hinds County schools was for his children. Dillon, Price’s attorney, argued a non-renewal of contract doesn’t necessarily mean bad behavior by the educator.
Maron said the purpose of the subpoena was to challenge statements Price made in news reports that he’s never been disciplined during his career.
Dillon objected to the subpoena, calling it a “wild goose chase” that is not relevant to Price’s termination in Hinds County.
In a statement issued after the hearing, Martin said the district administration will not make the choice for parents to talk with their children about body parts.
“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 part of the education team that is responsible for educating our young children ,” she said in the statement.
Attorneys will have two weeks to submit affidavits, and then Hearing Officer Nathaniel Armistad will issue a report summarizing testimony and evidence from the hearing.
That information will go to the Hinds County School Board, which will have 30 days to make a decision about Price’s employment.
Before then, Price will have an opportunity to make a statement about why the board shouldn’t uphold the superintendent’s decision to fire him.
Reporter Mina Corpuz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her de ella on Twitter @mlcorpuz.