WELLINGTON, Fla. — A Palm Beach County teacher will be suspended for 10 days after a school district investigation found she said the "n-word" and other inappropriate language around students in a seventh-grade physical education class.
But the teacher at Wellington Landings Middle School claimed she made the comments in an effort to correct a pattern of bad behavior among students.
The Palm Beach County School Board on Wednesday voted 6-1 to suspend Alexandra Munley without pay for violating several school district policies, including ethical misconduct.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Education
According to investigative documents from the School District of Palm Beach County's Office of Professional Standards, Munley, a physical education teacher, was recorded on a student's cell phone saying the "n-word" and "inappropriate language (profanity)" during class on Feb 2.
In the video, Munley directed the comments toward the children "after they made an issue of one of the students saying the 'p-word.'"
"Ms. Munley questioned the students about using such inappropriate language and was asking them, 'Did you just say that?' When one of the students replied, 'I probably did,' Ms. Munley made a comment back to her, 'Exactly. You don't have a problem saying '[EXPLETIVE] n-word,' but you have a problem with saying 'p-word,'" the documents showed.
Students told Wellington Landings Middle School administrators, who launched a preliminary investigation.
A total of nine students who were present on Feb. 2 were interviewed by the Office of Professional Standards.
"From review of the student statements, it was corroborated that Ms. Munley did say '[EXPLETIVE] n-word' to the student in response to the group having an issue amongst themselves with the use of the 'p-word,'" the investigative documents showed, adding that "Ms. Munley made the statement in a very vulgar manner."
Man threatened to 'shoot 6 students' at Loggers Run, arrest report states
However, in a written statement to the school district on Feb. 17, Munley said she made the comments as a "different approach" to correcting a pattern of bad behavior among certain students, "since nothing else had worked previously."
According to the investigative documents, Munley said that on Feb. 2, "a group of students was off task as normal." When she reminded them of what they were supposed to be doing, "they chose to continue to be off task."
One student in particular — whom Munley had asked school administrators to have permanently removed from the class for being disruptive and frequently using "excessively bad language" — "repeatedly screamed 'You [EXPLETIVE] n-word' to another student," adding that "it was a situation that was upsetting and disgusting to me," Munley said.
About a minuter later, the same student "loudly exclaimed, '[EXPLETIVE] that p-word!'"
Several students then asked Munley if she had heard what the student said.
"They wanted her to get in trouble for using the 'p-word' but showed no care about the '[EXPLETIVE] n-word' phrase," Munley said in her statement.
Claiming that traditional methods for "correcting student behavior had not made a difference to the students," Munley said she chose a "different approach."
"I asked the question 'So you don't have a problem with her saying '[EXPLETIVE] n-word' but you do have a problem with her saying 'p-word?' I used the exact same words that [REDACTED STUDENT'S NAME] had used in front of only the same students who had already heard [REDACTED STUDENT'S NAME] use those words," Munley said.
Munley added the approach was meant to "get real and to get on their level."
"I asked a specific question to a specific group of students for clarification purposes," Munley said in her statement. "I honestly wanted to know what was going on in their minds so that we could have a productive conversation about the inappropriateness of the words used. I never directed any of those words at any of the students. I merely repeated what a student had said to give a concrete, specific example of what should never be said by anyone to anyone. I thought that understanding why they thought the '[EXPLETIVE] n-word' phrase was okay to say might help me be able to get them to comprehend that it is not okay to ever say to anyone."
In her statement to school district investigators, Munley said "profane language from students is prevalent on the Wellington Landings Middle School campus," adding that she does not condone it and gives students warnings and detention, contacts adults at home, and does activities in class on "alternative ways to handle frustration and alternate things to say in place of curse words."
The seventh grade physical education class, in particular, according to Munley, has had "excessive bad language along with an excessive number of students who have been failing PE all school year for not participating in the PE activities."
Munley said she has tried to improve their behavior, including a "lesson on kindness" and "doing everything I could to get certain students to make better choices so that it was a more friendly, more inclusive, more fun class for everyone."
Following the Office of Professional Standards investigation, Superintendent Mike Burke said in a letter to Munley there is "just cause" and "clear and convincing evidence" to support her suspension.
The Palm Beach County School Board on Wednesday approved Munley's 10-day suspension starting on Sept. 8, with only board member Edwin Ferguson dissenting.
Ferguson argued Munley should face a harsher punishment.
"In this particular case, looking at the video, this person used the word clearly in the presence of students. And I have real trouble with just the 10-day suspension," Ferguson said.
The school board member added that a 10-day suspension is not "adequate and reasonable" because "being a teacher is a privilege."
"The word needs to be rooted out," Ferguson said. "It definitely should be rooted out in our schools. We cannot endorse any adult, employee of the school district — I'll say it that way — using those words during school hours in the presence of children."
According to the investigative documents, Munley was hired by the School District of Palm Beach County as a substitute teacher, and has been a physical education teacher at Wellington Landings Middle School since October of 2018. She has no prior discipline on her record.
WPTV contacted the school district to see what Munley's current role is, but our news team has not heard back.
However, the investigative documents revealed that since Feb. 8, she's been assigned to her "residence with pay" and cannot return to Wellington Landings Middle School or any school district property without permission.
WPTV also contacted Munley's attorney to she if the teacher will appeal the suspension, but has not heard back.
In a May 22 statement submitted by Munley's attorney to the school district, the attorney argued that Munley did not make the comments to one student in particular, but to a group of students.
"Ms. Munley denies stating that she said the 'n-word' to any particular student. This statement by the School District fails to recognize that she was addressing a group of students. Ms. Munley approached a group of students, after hearing them curse amongst themselves," the statement said.