A Mississippi educator will have to wait to see if he will be rehired after he was fired for reading a children’s book called I Need a New Butt! by Dawn McMillan, to a group of second graders. Toby Price is fighting to regain his job as assistant principal at Gary Road Elementary in the Jackson suburb of Byram in Hinds County. The Hinds County School Board’s decision on Price’s employment is expected in about two months.
Price was initially suspended with pay but later fired after reading the book to young students over Zoom. The book, by Dawn McMillan, chronicles a child’s journey to find a new backside. It is illustrated with cartoons that show the character considering an armor-plated butt, a rocket butt and a robot butt. In a statement after a March hearing, Superintendent Delesicia Martin called the book “inappropriate,” claiming “these statements and pictures are inappropriate for an educator to read and display to second graders, especially without advance notice to the teachers of the students.” During the first hearing, Price’s attorney listed other books in the school’s library that have similar themes or illustrations, including “Captain Underpants.”
Price described the book as “silly” and one that children could enjoy, the Clarion Ledger reported. “The kids are in on the joke as they read it,” Price said. Price said his teaching and administrative style incorporates play and silliness as ways to engage students in learning. This isn’t the first time Price has read silly books. He read the sequel to “I Need a New Butt!” in May 2020 for a virtual reading that was posted on the school’s Facebook page.
Price also has said he has never been disciplined, “not even for being late.” But, Martin said, during the hearing a prior employer said Price was not going to be offered a contract to return to Rankin County School District as a principal or in any other position and that he had resigned to avoid non-renewal of his contract. Price has been an educator for two decades. He held the post at Gary Road Elementary for three years.
Columnist Alyssa Rosenberg wrote an opinion piece in the March 16th edition of the Washington Post in opposition to Martin’s decision. Rosenberg states, “The book — the first in a series of four, covering such urgent matters as how to manage the wiggles and the etiquette of acknowledging flatulence — is extremely silly. But then, so are human bodies, in all their sweaty, smelly, fluctuating glory. And that’s the beauty of children’s books about butts: They take topics that in certain contexts might inspire shame and anxiety, and instead invite curiosity, along with ferocious giggles.
Unfortunately, judging by state officials’ efforts to crack down on even the gentlest acknowledgment of sexuality — or, apparently, basic anatomy — far too many grownups have apparently forgotten that making sense of the world means reading books that explore every inch of it. That’s a loss. It might be awkward to meet children where they are, to acknowledge the weirdness and eccentricities of our mortal vessels, and to explain for the millionth time that yes, everyone poops. But books are adults’ best allies in these conversations.”
Among others who took offense to Price’s termination was PEN America, who wrote an open letter objecting to the choice and calling it “an extreme disciplinary action, truly disproportionate to the situation.” PEN America contested the district’s claim that Price “failed to provide an environment that does not needlessly expose students to unnecessary embarrassment or disparagement”; reads PEN’s open letter, in part.
Cathy Collins has worked as a Library Media & Instructional Technology Specialist for 23 years at the K-12 level. She holds a Doctorate in Education with a specialization in Curriculum, Leadership, Teaching and Learning; and additional Masters Degrees in Education and Library Science. Dr. Collins served on the MassCUE Board as PD Chair from 2015-2019. She has published her writing in various journals including “EdWeek,” “Library Media Connection,” “NEA Today,” and “Knowledge Quest.” She is a 2012 Reynolds High School Journalism Institute Fellow and served as a project consultant for the E-Book, “Searchlights and Sunglasses: Journalism in the Digital Age.” She is currently serving as a News Literacy Project Ambassador. She received a “Teachers for Global Classrooms” fellowship from the U.S. State Dept. in 2014 and is the recipient of AASL’s 2014 Intellectual Freedom Award. She was named an MSLA “Super Librarian” in 2015. She served on the MA State Science Ambassador Team, ISTE STEM PLN Leadership Team, and was elected in December, 2020, to the ISTE Board of Directors. She is passionate about STEM/STEAM, global education and media literacy. In addition to having coordinated the Chinese Exchange Program at Sharon High School for many years, she has journeyed with students to India, Peru and Tanzania, Africa.