Chris Espino

Denison High School senior Chris Espino asks for the school district to re-evaluate what’s happening in the school system when it comes to derogatory words. “It’s not an isolated episode towards Mrs. Holt but simply a last straw for us and many of us and many of the other people that are with me to try to eliminate things like that from happening again," he said.  Photo by Gordon Wolf

Denison High School government teacher Crystal Holt will be transitioned back into her classroom according to a statement released by the school district Thursday afternoon.

Holt was at the center of social media storm over her use of the “N” word in its entirety the morning of November 14 while explaining to a student the nature of derogatory terms said by the main subject of a death penalty case.

The statement from the school district said it is clear the situation affected the educational environment of the district but that it was equally clear that Holt had no malicious intent in her use of the word.

(See the full statement with this article.)

The district became aware of the teacher’s use of the word last Friday and posted on its Facebook page that it would investigate the incident.

The situation led to a student walk-out and rally at 10 a.m. on Tuesday in front of the school.

Two of the students interviewed by the Denison Bulletin and Review said what sparked the rally was Holt’s use of the word in another teacher’s class last Friday morning while trying to explain why she used the word in class on Thursday.

The students said they were looking for an apology instead of Holt justifying her use of the word.

Students filled the circle by the Wall of Pride outside the high school building and said they were asking that the administration conduct an external investigation and a change to the policies in the handbook.

Todd Meehan, a senior at Denison High School, was a member of one of the two mock jury groups in Holt’s first-block government class on Thursday, studying the elements of the Kenneth Junior French murder trial of the early 1990s.

He said he does not believe it was necessary for Holt to use the “N” word.

Holt said she was going back and forth between the mock juries. One of the groups had written hate crimes because French had used pejorative terms.

She said one of the students in the mock jury asked what “pejorative” means.

Holt answered that it means derogatory. The student asked what derogatory means.

“I tried to explain that those are not nice terms, racist in nature,” she said, “and I said he (French) did say the ‘N’ word and I did say he used the term “N-----” (the entire word).”

“To my knowledge no one asked her,” he said. “We knew what she was leading to, and then she said it. We were all kind of shocked at first – like, wow, she really just said that.”

Meehan was asked why none of the students spoke out immediately when Holt used the “N” word.

“We were talking to each other about it at first and we were deciding what to do, and then we found out she said it the next day and it just started to spiral and we decided, yeah, we can’t just sit by and let this happen, especially with all the different ethnic groups here. It’s a big deal,” he said.

Meehan said Holt may have been able to forestall the walk-out and rally on Tuesday “Maybe if she would have apologized and said, ‘Hey, I understand I did something wrong.’ We would have been more than willing to talk to her and not let it get this far, but she justified herself. She didn’t apologize.”

Another senior, Christopher Espino, was in the second-block English class on Friday in which Holt explained her use of the word. While standing on a bench in the Wall of Pride circle, Espino gave a speech during the rally in which he said what had happened the week before was not an isolated incident.

In an interview with media during the rally, Espino said that when Holt came to the second-block English class “she continued to say those terms in front of me and our classmates and therefore it wasn’t really in a historical context because she said it in a different class and provided no historical context for me in that room.”

He said that’s when he became aware that something had to be done, and like Meehan, said what the students wanted was an apology.

But he also said that Holt is one of the nicest teachers in the high school.

It’s a sentiment he echoed that night during a public forum added to the school board meeting expressly to allow those who filled the high school library to state their opinions.

Espino said he and the people with him did not want Holt fired and he decried those who have attacked the teacher and her family in social media posts.

“I actually had the honor to go to San Francisco with Mrs. Holt and other faculty members for a youth leadership summit. I got to know Mrs. Holt,” he told the audience. “I will say one thing; she is an amazing person, smart, educated and a great teacher.”

Espino continued, though, that that the fact that Holt used the word in a historical context was not right to him and that saying the word again in the English class on Friday hurt.

“What hurt the most is that she said it knowing that it was offensive toward us. It hurt the most that not even an apology came out of her mouth,” he said.

“I am not asking for the firing of Mrs. Holt. I am not asking for any negative energy towards her,” he continued. “What I’m simply asking for is that we re-evaluate what’s happening in our school system when it comes to words like these, how do we treat these and how we can handle more of these problems in the future.

“It’s not an isolated episode towards Mrs. Holt but simply a last straw for us and many of us and many of the other people that are with me to try to eliminate things like that from happening again,” Espino concluded.

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