Editor’s note: Offensive language is contained in the story below.
The Buchholz High School teacher who used the N-word in his classroom will be reassigned to another school instead of terminated, an Alachua County Public Schools official said Monday.
Robert Cecil, who teaches English to ninth and 10th graders, has also received a written reprimand, a day of unpaid suspension and was ordered to undergo “sensitivity training” on racial matters, said Kevin Purvis, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources.
It remains to be decided to which school, but Cecil, who has 16 years’ teaching experience, would hopefully be transferred “immediately,” Purvis said. Cecil’s new school will not get a say in whether he goes there, the assistant superintendent said.
Cecil, 56, reacted harshly to the punishment, telling WUFT News “the consequences are not proportionate to the offense” and describing the revealing of the incident as “fake news.”
On Friday, Porchville Podcast, a local series produced in Gainesville, aired an hourlong episode in which the teacher defended his use of the racial slur in the classroom on Feb. 12.
“Sometimes you have to shock the kids to get them to wake up,” he told Nick Estes, the podcast interviewer, who said he asked Cecil for an interview after hearing about the “crazy story.”
A student recorded the teacher using the racial slur and its colloquial variant during an impromptu in-class discussion involving hate language and freedom of speech.
“If you’re black, and you say ‘n***a’, but you don’t say ‘n****r, ‘cause that’s like …” Cecil says in a 12-second cellphone video that the student shared via Snapchat. The video went viral across Buchholz and spawned outrage among other students, parents and community activists.
Cecil and Purvis said the teacher was disciplined soon after district officials learned about what happened in his classroom, Purvis said. Cecil has not returned to Buchholz High since that day.
According to a parent of one in the English class, students have spent that time period each day mostly watching movies or on their phones, because no one has been assigned to replace Cecil.
Buchholz’s administration is “actively looking for a replacement,” Purvis said.
In an interview Saturday, the teacher acknowledged that he went too far during what was a two- to three minute class discussion. He also said in that interview that using the N-word and its variant was a “lapse in judgment” that “backfired.”
On Monday, Cecil said he empathized with the students in the class.
“The kids lost a teacher,” he said. “This is a relationship I’ve been building for months. It’s a curriculum I have been building for months – even years – and it’s all just shattered right now.”
While saying “I take some responsibility for it,” Cecil once again decried that the student who recorded the video did so without his permission and was not being reprimanded by the district.
The student has not been publicly identified.
Noting that Buchholz and district officials have received complaints from parents and students over the situation, Purvis said the discipline against Cecil was neither too harsh nor too light.
“Verbal, written, unpaid suspension, termination – that’s the steps in the collective bargaining agreement,” the assistant superintendent said. “This is down the middle.”
The sensitivity training – a blend of online and in-person lessons – is part of an equity plan that aims to narrow the achievement gap between white students and those of color, Purvis said.
“We have made great strides and are making great efforts in that realm – and this is one thing we want to bring back around and train Mr. Cecil on,” he said.
Evelyn Foxx, president of the Alachua County branch of the NAACP, said she was glad that Cecil had apologized for using what she called the “wrong choice of words.”
As for his punishment by the school district, Foxx said she was not surprised.
“I knew that they weren’t going to get rid of him … they were going to reinstate him and send him to another school,” she said. “That’s kind of crazy, but then I think everybody deserves a second chance – and we all have made mistakes and we’ve learned from them.”