It has been about two months since Toby Price was fired as an assistant principal of a Hinds County school for reading a children’s book titled “I Need a New Butt!” to second graders during a Zoom call for Read Across America Week.
He had been appealing his termination with the school district through hearings, testimony and, most recently, an April 28 appearance before the Hinds County School Board before it went into a closed session to discuss his employment.
On Monday while Price was watching a performance of a play his daughter wrote, he received the news about his employment in a 12-page order: the board agreed with the superintendent’s decision to fire him.
“I was asked to read … and here we are,” Price said Thursday. “I’m just really sad. I don’t think it had to happen this way.”
Price, who has been an educator for 20 years in the Hinds and Rankin County public schools, had been at Gary Road Elementary School in Byram for three years before his dismissal.
Although the appeals process with the district is over, Price plans to keep fighting for his job through the courts.
‘He doesn’t see the problems’
The Hinds County School Board met April 28 and heard from Price and attorneys representing him and the district before voting in an executive session.
Price chose to address the board by reading a poem he wrote documenting his firing, the fallout, the hearings and how he hoped members would make a thoughtful decision.
In closed session, Board President Linda Laws and Vice President Carolyn Samuel voted yes to uphold Price’s termination, according to a copy of the board’s order Price shared with the Clarion Ledger. Member Rod Jones voted no and members Robbie Anderson and Kayla Banger abstained from the vote.
There are other books out there with humor and fun language that engage students without similar content as the book he read, the board wrote. Price was close to the library and could have picked another to read.
“He does not see the problems associated with a school administrator desensitizing both adult nudity and child nudity by exposing it to children under his care,” the board wrote. “At a minimum, it conditions children to believe all types of actions are nothing to be concerned about — they are just funny. However, these activities are for children. It is serious.”
The board said “I Need a New Butt!” contains nude pictures of the adult children and adult characters and them doing inappropriate activities.
For example, the book featured an adult character painting on the exposed bottom of a child. That is something the district would have been required to report to the state Department of Human Services for child abuse or neglect, the board wrote.
The school district has said that it doesn’t want to expose students to things they are not prepared to be exposed to. The board wrote Price’s “forcing this book and its pictures on the second grade” didn’t allow teachers to prepare for the aftermath.
The board wrote the book had “an immediate, negative impact upon a student.” The school administration learned about the reading when a child knocked on the door of another assistant principal and repeatedly said “butt,” according to the board’s letter.
Superintendent Delesicia Martin tested the school previously addressed an issue with the same child who pulled their pants down in class.
Martin’s office released a statement Thursday sharing the school board’s order, but she did not elaborate about the board’s decision.
Attorney Elizabeth Maron, who represented the district in the hearings, did not respond to a request for comment.
Staying busy, looking ahead
Price’s attorney, Joel Dillard, warned the Hinds County School Board on April 28 that upholding the superintendent’s decision could push Price’s case into court.
“The court is not going to ask itself did Toby Price have a GoFundMe, did he get fried from a job or did he resign. None of that stuff matters,” Dillard said. “What is going to matter is whether there is evidence of what the generally accepted professional standards are, and there is.”
Price plans to pursue a wrongful termination case in Hinds County Chancery Court.
Since his termination, Price said his wife, Leah, has been his support. She reminds him that the best way they can handle a big and daunting situation is one step and day at a time.
Thinking beyond efforts to get his job back, Price said he and his wife have considered moving out of state. The family has lived in Mississippi for 20 years.
His older children who are 18 and 19 have autism, and it can be difficult to find support services for them in Mississippi. His youngest, who is 15, will be finishing high school soon.
Price, who is from Ohio, said he moved around a lot as a child because of his father’s job.
“It was my goal not to make my kids do that,” he said. “I want to give them some permanence. If we do move it, will be our last move for a while.”
Staying busy and tapping into his creative side has also helped, he said.
Price has volunteered at his younger daughter’s school. He recently released a book he wrote and illustrated called “The Almost True Adventures of Tytus the Monkey.”
He was a speaker at Jackson’s first The Moth Mainstage storytelling production at the Alamo Theater.
He would like more opportunities to do creative work for kids, such as a potential podcast about books.
“Kids still need those silly books,” Price said.
Reporter Mina Corpuz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter @mlcorpuz.