Editor’s note: Offensive language is contained in the text and video of the incident below.
Only the head of the English teacher can be seen in the 12-second video captured and shared via Snapchat by a student who was in the classroom at F.W. Buchholz High School in Gainesville.
Robert Cecil, 56, who teaches the subject to ninth and 10th graders at the school, is seen and heard debating with the students about when it’s OK to use the N-word.
“If you’re black, and you say ‘n***a’, but you don’t say ‘n****r, ‘cause that’s like …” he says.
“We can say it,” an African American male student then interjects.
The teacher raises his voice so he can be heard above the clamoring.
“It’s a free country, freedom of speech, right?” Cecil asks.
The exchange occurred Feb. 12. The video spread across Buchholz the next day and Friday, according to students and community members upset about the incident. It comes after a University of Oklahoma professor likened the phrase “OK Boomer” to a racial slur on Feb. 11.
It was unclear whether Cecil was still teaching in a classroom pending a school district investigation.
In an emailed statement sent to WUFT News on Tuesday evening, Cecil wrote: “First of all, I would like to apologize for all the viewers that have been harmed or offended by this video.”
Buchholz High School teacher Robert Cecil’s statement:
“First of all, I would like to apologize for all the viewers that have been harmed or offended by this video. The irony, however, is inescapable. I detest the N-word more than any other word in the English language. It represents the greatest sin of our country when we enslaved other human beings. This word and its variants are said casually among subsections of our population, and in trying to demonstrate how it has negative shock appeal, I used it in a teachable moment in class. I used the N-word and made a short parody of who believes that this hate language is protected by our First Amendment. The video was edited so that my disapproval of the word and its attendant racist connotations were edited out. This is, of course, an abrogation of my rights. In no way was this response to my students’ using this word, which was videoed without my permission, meant to be disparaging to anyone. I’ve been teaching children of all ethnic backgrounds for 16 years and I hope that this service will not be terminated by a 10-second, badly edited video.”
The teacher continued: “The irony, however, is inescapable. I detest the N-word more than any other word in the English language. It represents the greatest sin our of country when we enslaved other human beings.”
Cecil noted that “this word and its variants are said casually among subsections of our population” and that he considered it to be a “teachable moment in class.” He then wrote that he uttered the offensive words to “demonstrate how it has shock appeal” – and that he also “made a short parody of who believes that this hate language is protected by our First Amendment.”
As for the video, Cecil wrote that it was “edited so that my disapproval of the word and its attendant racist connotations were edited out. This is, of course, an abrogation of my rights. In no way was this response to my students using this word, which was videotaped without my permission, meant to be disparaging to anyone.”
Cecil concluded by writing that he has been teaching children of all ethnic backgrounds for 16 years and, “I hope that this service will not be terminated by a 10-second, badly edited video.”
Alachua County Public Schools officials were made aware of the situation last week. Cecil would have 10 days to respond to a preliminary investigation, spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said Tuesday afternoon, hours before the teacher emailed WUFT.
After a member of the public complained about the situation at the school board meeting on Tuesday evening, chairwoman Eileen Roy said she could not comment because of the investigation. That prompted another member of the public, Julie Crosby, 54, a grandmother of children in district schools, to complain as well.
“There’s a connection between student achievement and the valuing of students of color; there is a connection between a student’s self-worth and achievement,” Crosby said. “And the fact that you can’t just simply give a public apology and give a statement … there’s a connection.”
That led the board’s vice chairwoman, Leanetta McNealy, to briefly address Crosby.
“I accept the slap on my wrist because, if anything, I should have opened my mouth,” McNealy said. “I thank you for chastising us.”
With 2,279 students enrolled, Buchholz has the largest student body in Gainesville. White students comprise 53% there, with black students at 21% of the enrollment, according to data Johnson shared.
School administration had yet to address the situation with students as of Tuesday, said DeAndre Daniels, 17, a 12th grader and the student body vice president at Buchholz. A spokeswoman for principal James TenBieg told WUFT he would offer no comment.
Daniels said the context of the classroom conversation didn’t matter to him nor other African American students. He said there could be no excuse for the teacher saying the word there.
“Nowadays, we live in a world where people just say what they want to say and do what they want to do,” Daniels said. “It was shocking to see that a teacher who’s supposed to motivate the students and bring them up is saying slurs that are offensive to anyone.”youasdfasfsaf
The student said he knows of no other allegation of racism concerning a faculty member during his time at Buchholz. He said, however, there have been such incidents involving students.
“We have everyone in their separate groups that’s judging others for their looks or their sexuality or their race,” Daniels said. “I’ve seen it student body-wise and now, to see it in the teacher, is shocking.”
Evelyn Foxx, president of the Alachua County chapter of the NAACP, said she was shocked when she woke up to the video on Valentine’s Day. Foxx said someone had emailed a copy of it to her and urged that the local civil rights leader issue a public demand for accountability.
“As a middle-aged white male, I find this offensive and inappropriate,” the source, whom Foxx said wished to remain anonymous, wrote in the email.
Speaking hours before Cecil issued his statement, Foxx said an apology is not enough. She said the teacher should be removed from the school.
“We won’t let Mr. Cecil ruin our Black History Month, but something has to be done about any teacher that uses that type of language in the classroom,” she said.
Foxx added: “The kids are never going to forget this. In fact, I don’t even know if he can be in a classroom if he feels that strongly about using the N-word.”
She also said she was inspired by seeing the students push back on Cecil in the video.
“They know that a white person using the N-word is very offensive to them,” Foxx said. “They’re not just going to sit there and not say anything.”