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Teacher admits using racially offensive term; is fired
School Board terminates SEB Middle teacher
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     A Southeast Bulloch Middle School special education teacher was fired Thursday for using a racially offensive word toward students. After a called meeting to hear the case, Bulloch County Board of Education members voted unanimously to follow recommendations to terminate Dr. Michael Kellam for violation of school system policy.
      Kellam admitted in writing, in initial interviews and during Thursday's hearing to having used the racially offensive word "n----r" while talking to students Nov. 12. Bulloch County School Superintendent Dr. Lewis Holloway recommended termination for Kellam, but Kellam hired attorney Allen Lowe and appealed the decision.
      Kellam and the 13-year-old student who took offense at the racial slur are both black.
      Bulloch County BOE members Dr. Scott Bohlke, Kenny Stone, Susan Riley, Mike Herndon and Edwin Hill, who all are white, were present for the hearing. Board members Maurice Hill and Dr. Charles Bonds, who are black, did not attend the hearing.
      Susan Cox, attorney for the school system, opened the hearing by urging board members to support Holloway's recommendation to fire Kellam.
      Calling the use of words "stupid" and "n----r" while referring to students as an "error in judgment on Dr. Kellam's part," Cox told board members about the incident, during which Kellam verbally disciplined the 13-year-old complainant and other students who were acting up during a 4-H meeting.
      Kellam told students to "stop acting like a n----r" and told the 13-year-old in a second incident to "get your black butt to another table" when he was found sitting in the wrong spot at lunch, she said.
      Southeast Bulloch Middle School Principal Donna Clifton investigated the matter after one of the 13-year-old special education student's teachers noticed something was bothering him and questioned him. She reported the incident to Clifton, who questioned the student and Kellam.
      Cox said Kellam expressed an opinion that since he was black, and the students were black, it was acceptable to use the racial slur because of "cultural" ideals. But, she told board members, " We cannot have two standards in this school system."

Punishment questioned
      Lowe questioned the severity of punishment, asking board members to consider Kellam's positive reviews and performance and allow him to keep his job. Kellam was placed on suspension after the incident.
      "It's a drastic step to take a man's career away from him," he said. " I think he deserves to keep his job."
      Holloway testified during the hearing , stating "I find it repulsive ... calling students 'stupid' was just as bad as the "n" word. This outburst causes students to lose respect for Dr. Kellam."
      Referring to Kellam expressing a view that a black man using the offensive word towards black students is culturally acceptable, Holloway said " We can't have a double standard. I don't think it's appropriate in any form or fashion."
      Holloway said Kellam was an effective teacher, but said his use of the derogatory term caused him to "become ineffective ..."
      Clifton testified the student was "very angry and upset" after Kellam used the offensive words in admonishing him and his friends. She repeated what the student told her Kellam said, and told board members she had four written statements from students as well as an admission from Kellam that he made the comments.
      "As professional educators, we are not to degrade or use racial comments to students," she said, as she recommended termination for Kellam. A food service worker was fired a few years ago because she told a joke with the same racially offensive word, she said.
      She said she gave Kellam a good evaluation with the exception that he needed to improve relationships with students.
      The student took the stand next, and was visibly nervous at being seated directly in front of Kellam as he was questioned.
      "We started laughing, and he walked up to me and called us the 'n' word," he said.
      Then, speaking of the second incident, he said Kellam told him to "get your black butt up and sit at another table." He told board members Kellam "called me and (other students) stupid n----rs."
      Lowe asked the student whether he wanted Kellam fired, but the student looked down and did not answer. Cox objected to the question, and it was withdrawn.
      Assistant Superintendent Lynda Yawn, in charge of human resources, testified that after Kellam made an official statement during questioning, he asked her "Could we just get real?"
      She said he told her "these were black boys, he was a black man, and he was just trying to talk to these boys in a way they could understand. To me, the word stupid is just as offensive as the word n----r was."

Culturally acceptable?
      Doris Wilbon, a Georgia Department of Human Resources communicable disease specialist, testified on Kellam's behalf, telling board members she worked with him and defended the use of the racial slur, calling it "a term that is used quite frequently in the African American community" and "a cultural thing."
      Cox said, "It is very hard to write a policy where it's sometimes OK to use that word and sometimes it is not."
      Lawanda Allen, an Effingham County BOE employee who once worked with Kellam also praised his past professional performance. She testified using the same "n" word to a student in Appling County in 1997.
      Two black female students were misbehaving and she "didn't call them that (n----r) but said they were acting like that, not becoming of them or their race. They understood exactly what I meant."
      She said she was not reprimanded for that comment.
      "You have to understand when it is appropriate and not in the black community," she said. "If a white person said it, it would be offensive."
      When Cox questioned why, Allen said "It would have been a different situation. Being from a black perspective, it would have been different."

Teacher's defense
      Kellam spoke in his own defense next.
      "Looking back ... the word I used could have been inappropriate," he said.
      He had encountered many behavioral problems with the 13-year-old student and others that year and said he used the offensive word "out of frustration. He said his words were "You're acting stupid and silly. You're acting like a n----r."
      He explained to board members "Being black, and these are two black boys, I wanted them to correct their behavior."
      He said he regretted the use of the words, but did not feel termination was fair. "To me it's too strong. This is a first offense."
      He said he wanted to keep his job and "being a black male (employed by the school system), that in itself is a contribution" to the system.
      Board members moved to go into executive session to discuss the matter, and told Kellam he would be notified in writing within 10 days of their decision.
      However, after the executive session was over, board members announced their decision to uphold Holloway's recommendation that Kellam be fired.
      "I think it was a correct decision," Holloway said Friday. "The vote was unanimous."

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