Toby Price fired for reading ‘butt’ book confirmed by school board

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When the news broke Monday, Toby Price was enjoying a proud parenting moment.

It was early afternoon in Jackson, Mississippi, as he watched a play his 15-year-old daughter, Marley Kate, had written – a rendition of “Cinderella” performed at Kaleidoscope Heights Academy, an inclusive private Christian school for students of all levels.

Its manufacture was inspired by a college student who uses a wheelchair and wanted everyone to have a chance to portray main characters like Prince Charming — a plot twist that Price calls “pretty awesome.”

Price looked at his phone. There was good news from an editor. Price’s new children’s book, “The Almost True Adventures of Tytus the Monkey,” was selling well in Canada. Then another message came through. It was his lawyer.

Price was working as a replacement at Kaleidoscope after being laid off early March of his previous job. He was about to find out if his appeal to get his job back had been successful.

Price’s firing as vice-principal at Gary Road Elementary School in Byram, Mississippi had spread far beyond the Jackson area. Her choice to read “I need a new ass!” — from a popular franchise aimed at the elementary school set and stocked by mass retailers such as Walmart — had placed it squarely in the national culture war over books pulled from classrooms and school libraries.

On March 1, he hosted a virtual reading for second graders. When the reader scheduled for the event failed to show up, Price was asked to jump into the breach. He picked a book off his shelf that he thought was engagingly funny. “I need a new ass!” by Dawn McMillan and illustrator Ross Kinnaird was a favorite he had read to students at a previous school.

Price thought his Zoom reading was a hit with kids. Soon after, however, the school principal questioned whether his choice of book was appropriate. It contained cartoon butts and made reference to flatulence. Two days later, Hinds County School District Superintendent Delesicia Martin fired him. Price appealed the dismissal at school board hearings.

On Monday afternoon, Price watched his lawyer’s message: a report of the Hinds County School District said the dismissal was confirmed. The report, which Price shared with The Washington Post, said, “Mr. Price’s contract should be terminated for incompetence, negligence, and for cause.” Two council members had voted “yes”; one member had voted “no”; and the other two had abstained.

“We expected that part to happen, but at the same time, it doesn’t make it any easier,” Price says. “It still stings.”

Price plans to appeal. The next step is the Mississippi Chancery Courts, and the state Supreme Court may come later, Price says. “If that’s where it ends, that’s where it ends.”

So far, the fight has already tempted Price and his wife, Leah, who is a secretary at Kaleidoscope Heights. They have three teenagers – 19-year-old Addison and 18-year-old McKade, who have autism, and Marley Kate, who is bipolar.

Her parents, who live nearby, have been a source of support. The same goes for the GoFundMe campaign which has raised over $125,000 for the family. He tries to cope and hope with the same warm sense of humor that characterized him as an educator for seven years in primary grades and about 13 years in administration.

Price feels anxiety about providing for his family even as he jokes about becoming “a good trophy husband”. And he knows this through difficult experiences. After all, he likes to say, an autistic parent never sleeps — they “just worry with their eyes closed.”

He says he has received job offers from out of state. But this is home. This is where a neighbor will stop to tell him how much he meant to their school children. And it is there that he will continue to ask for his reinstatement and his salary arrears.

Because Price says there’s something you can’t take away from him: his passion as an educator.

Price, 46, enjoys a rare moment of calm last week, speaking from his living room which, since his dismissal, he has transformed into an office. Outside are her two Great Pyrenees dogs: Beatrice, named after a character from the Lemony Snicket books, and Artemis, after the science fiction character Artemis Fowl.

In his home outside of Jackson that is “loved and lived in,” the educator is surrounded by books and tchotchkes that reflect his love of education and geek culture. Hanging in the laundry room is a Captain America shield. Even that makes Price think about the classroom. When he was a teacher, he said with a smile, “I had to pretend to be a superhero, but I didn’t have to wear pantyhose.

Price, who was born in Columbus, Ohio, says as a boy he first thought reading was boring. The real problem was “that I was not good at it”, but “luckily my parents gave me stuff that I was interested in”, including comic books.

Price swivels in an office chair during a FaceTime call and grabs his reading copy of “I Need a New Ass!” “That’s the one,” he said in a quick drawl — his trimmed beard straightening with a smile. He calls such silly books “kids candy”.

In McMillan’s story, a boy who believes he’s broken his back goes in search of a replacement, whether it’s a robot butt or a rocket butt or a tackle with armor. “I need a new ass!” is “fun and short, and the footage is hilarious and really catchy,” Price says, adding, “Hang them with this stuff. They’ll tackle the veggies later.”

The Hinds County School District disagreed. “First and foremost, the book contains statements and cartoon images regarding body anatomy, bodily functions, and the removal of clothing to expose private areas of the body in various positions,” he said. said in a statement released after an appeal hearing. “These statements and images are inappropriate for an educator to read and display to second graders, especially without notice to the students’ teachers.”

The district and Elizabeth Maron, the attorney representing it, did not respond to interview requests from The Post. McMillan declined an interview request.

Price says on March 3 he was stunned when he was called to meet with the superintendent and given the choice of signing a resignation paper or being fired pending appeal.

Leah Price soon heard a ringing on her phone. “I looked down and my stomach went to the ground,” she said. Her husband’s text read, “Baby, they’re firing me.” She told him to breathe. Then she said to him, “Don’t sign this paper. If you sign this paper, it’s the same as admitting that you did something wrong. … You read a book to children. You haven’t done anything wrong.”

Price took his advice and walked out. “I started screaming the moment I hit the car,” he says. “I went to Dollar General to buy some Zebra Cakes, because what other way to eat your emotions than with a Little Debbie?”

He says he doesn’t know of any parents who have complained about his choice of book – although some educators told him they had removed books from their classrooms out of extreme caution since his dismissal.

His friend Tom Angleberger, a children’s author (“The Strange Case of Origami Yoda”) who once dedicated a book to the Awards, also doesn’t believe the educator did anything wrong. He says Price was meeting second graders at their level. “You can show them a mainstream book, everyone approves and they’re kinda bored with it,” he says. “Maybe they need something funnier, maybe they need something a little more rebellious, maybe they need something that’ll shake it up a bit. I think he saw the butt book as a way to reach kids who might not have been excited if he had just said, “Okay, we’re going to re-read a book safe today.”

PEN America supported Price’s choice. In a letter to the school district, the non-profit organization that defends freedom of expression wrote that punishing Price “is a threat to the freedom to read, learn, and teach, which should be protected and upheld in schools. Reading and sharing literature, even on silly subjects, should be celebrated in public education, not become a cause for punishment.

In its report, the school board said the book contained “images of child and adult nudity and inappropriate actions.”

Yet Joel Dillard, Price’s attorney, says that in “I need a new ass!” the “illustrated depictions of a child’s bottom that the District most objected to were fanciful and imaginary scenes. There was nothing remotely realistic – that’s what made them funny.

Angelberger compares the nudity of the cartoon in the book to that of a “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip or a Coppertone advertisement. He says the humor of the premise gets lost in the district’s interpretation. “All kids get that immediately – how ridiculous it is,” the author says, noting that he’s seen the book displayed in the young readers’ section of big box family stores. “The children understand, and it is the adults who have a hard time. Growing up, some of us forgot that butts are funny.

Wait, are you serious? You’re kidding.

Fired for a book? What are you smoking?

Price read this passage aloud to the school board during an appeal hearing, as part of a poem he titled “Mr. Price’s Final Refutal” which mixed humor with a serious sense of goal.

He says he often used laughter to endure personal adversity. He likes to make others smile, even writing a children’s book like “Tytus,” which is about “cuteness, chaos, and autism.”

Meanwhile, he and his wife assess the direction their lives will take. during and after the next legal steps.

“I can count on one hand how many people in my life are doing what they were made to do – I mean absolutely and completely placed on this Earth doing what they were made to do. Toby Price is one of those people,” says Leah, noting that her husband’s playful class projects have included scavenger hunts and Star Wars cosplay. “I’ve known that since the day I met him. was made to be an educator, he was made to work with children, and he was made to be a father, he was put on this planet to share his love of literacy with children.

Price, meanwhile, craves the rhythms and routines of Gary Road Elementary. “I miss Field Day. I miss the Fun Run. We had some stuff planned for Star Wars Day. It sucks. I have three children at home and I had 600 at work.

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