Howard Palmer, assistant principal at Denton High School, is still on leave following allegations of racism.
In a video posted to social media, Palmer, who is white, says “n----r” several times while a parent, who is black, explains to him the use of that racial slur is unacceptable.
Julie Zwahr, spokeswoman for the district, said Palmer has been on administrative leave since April 27 pending an investigation headed by the district’s human resources department.
“He’s not been on campus in well over a week,” Zwahr said.
Zwahr and district spokesman Derrick Jackson said they knew little about the incident and that they hadn’t viewed the video on social media.
“I don’t really care to watch the video if what people are telling me is true,” Zwahr said.
She and Jackson said they knew only what others had told them about the recording.
“All we know is that if something like that is out there, that’s not what we’re about, so I don’t know that it’s important that we watch the video,” Zwahr said.
In the video, which was taken April 26, the parent and Palmer argue over the exact wording Palmer allegedly used in a previous interaction with students, in which the parent says Palmer told two black students to “Turn that n----r music off.”
Palmer argues that his exact words were, “Turn that music down. I don’t want to hear the word n----r in my office.”
“That word shouldn’t even be coming out of your mouth, Mr. Palmer. ... You want me to be fine with you using that expletive to a student,” the parent says.
Prince Njoku, the parent who took the video, said his daughter, LaTasia Woodard, called him that Friday to tell him about the incident.
Njoku explained the series of events as he knew them: Palmer called an unnamed student into his office to discipline him for taking an off-campus lunch without permission, “which is standard protocol,” Njoku said.
The student was wearing headphones and listening to music while in Palmer’s office, at which point the assistant principal allegedly used the racial slur.
With the student wearing headphones, Njoku doubted Palmer would have been able to hear any words at all: “You’re going to hear music; you’re not going to hear the words,” he said.
At that point, the student returned to class, at which point Woodard heard about it. She then went to Palmer’s office to ask him if the allegations were true.
“That’s when I came down here, because I was outraged that a word like that would come out of your mouth, a person in a position of power in this school,” Woodard says to Palmer in the video.
Palmer allegedly confirmed that he did refer to rap as “n----r music,” before closing the door on her.
Njoku said he expected backlash before he even spoke to Palmer, and that he took to video without the administrator’s knowledge. The camera is pointed toward clothing or ceiling for the majority of the video. Concerning recordings, Texas is known as a “one-party consent state,” meaning the conversation was legally recorded because one party — Njoku — was aware of the recording.
“It was just to protect myself,” Njoku said. “I just wanted proof that I went in there in a pretty much calm and collected manner.”
Throughout the video, Palmer also sounds calm and collected. At one point, Njoku says he doesn’t want to hear ignorance or cultural differences being used as defenses for Palmer’s behavior.
“You know the impact of what you did here,” Njoku says.
“I grew up with that word,” Palmer says in response.
“I totally know, Mr. Palmer, because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t have used it as an adjective to describe a category of music,” Njoku says.
Njoku said he wasn’t trying to covertly catch Palmer making a racist statement, but he wanted to be sure that what happened in the office wasn’t twisted after their conversation.
Since Palmer’s suspension, Njoku said he spoke with Jackson, the district spokesman, the following Monday. Njoku said he was told the district would be handling the situation seriously, especially because it involves an administrator.
He said he also eventually spoke with Area Superintendent Daniel Lopez, who asked for a copy of the video circulating online during their phone conversation. Lopez reportedly told Njoku the district needed a copy to conclude the HR investigation.
Mia Price, Denton school board president, said she first heard about the incident this past week, when she learned the district was already handling it according to protocol.
“He apparently was placed on administrative leave and the district is investigating all aspects of the situation,” Price said.
She was happy to know the district was quick to act.
“I saw the video,” Price said. “I can’t comment other that to say the district is handling the situation according to due process and the law.”
Price, Zwahr and Jackson declined to comment further, citing the ongoing investigation and the general nature of personnel matters.
District officials did not know how long the investigation might last, nor did they know if Palmer was on paid or unpaid leave.
As expected, Njoku has had plenty of pushback since posting the video.
“They’re telling me that I shouldn’t have posted the video, let all the facts come out, that Mr. Palmer has worked there for all these years and that he wouldn’t have gotten away with it for all these years if he’d been doing that,” Njoku said.
He doesn’t think the district would be taking these allegations nearly as seriously without his video, “because it would have been my word against his.”
He said he’s not looking for retribution of any kind; he’s content to have shown people the kind of racism that can exist among administrators.
“It just is what it is, to just be frank about it, for people to sweep racism or racist action under the rug,” Njoku said.