Students’ ‘Yes Sir’ Not Good Enough, Teacher Says Call Me ‘Massa’ (Watch)

Nicholle White and her son, Jabre White
Nicholle White and her son, Jabre White


*Jabre White, a senior at the west-side Des Moines high school thought he was being polite when he responded to directions being given by Roosevelt High School teacher Shawn McCurtain, who had told his class to head downstairs for the next final exam.

He said, “Yes, sir.”  But the young man was shocked when McCurtain allegedly corrected him with, “You meant to say, ‘Yes, sir, massa.'”

Stunned, and hurt, then angered, White immediately responded “Who the eff do you think you’re talking to?” before attempting to report the teacher to the school’s administrators. But, as he tells the reporter in the video below, he found they were too busy to acknowledge him; so he waited until the next day.

His mother, Nicholle White, was not amused, and she contacted the Reader’s Watchdog, wanting to know why school officials would not disclose how they responded after the educator was said to have used a slur reminiscent of the slave era.

“I have tried to be humble,” she said of her dealings with school officials. “But I also feel I need to express as a mother, and as a black woman, how I feel.”

White had asked officials at the school to look into the incident when she learned about it last May.  According to emails she forwarded to the Watchdog, Vice Principal Joseph Blazevich investigated and confirmed that the comment was made.

Blazevich admitted to White via email how “Terrible” and “Shameful” he found the teacher’s behavior to be, but simply said that “the instructor was very remorseful.” He also refused to disclose what disciplinary actions, if any, would be taken towards the teacher; defending his decision not to reveal this to White by saying district personnel matters are confidential under state law.

This is when White reached out to the press.

District officials did not deny the comment happened either. Spokesman Phil Roeder said district policy clearly bars any form of discrimination, including comments, by an employee toward a student. “To put it mildly, it was wrong in every way you look at it,” he said.

However, with that said, there was still no clear answers as to what the disciplinary process would be towards McCurtain, who is still employed by the district, and was unavailable to be reached for comment.

Nicholle White has reached out to the school board too; telling them that she believes the teacher should go through diversity training, and if he has done so before, he needs more. She made it clear that he deserves something tougher than a reprimand in his file.

Blazevich said all school employees are required to take cultural-competency training that helps them relate with students from a variety of socioeconomic and racial backgrounds.

White said she plans to contact the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and the NAACP.

McCurtain did eventually call her this month to apologize, White said. The teacher said that he meant for the comment to be humorous. Still, she said, she didn’t find him sincere.

White’s query reveals a contradiction of sorts in Iowa law regarding teacher discipline.

While Chapter 22 of the Iowa Code prohibits the disclosure of personnel matters, Chapter 272 makes public the final written decisions of the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners.

Roeder advised White that if she wants to pursue the matter further,  she could file a complaint with that state board — but should be prepared to wait months for a resolution.

A quick review of the board’s decisions in recent years suggests a suspension or license revocation is unlikely.

In the past three years, just three Des Moines teachers out of about 3,000 cases have had their licenses suspended or revoked by the board, records show.

Read the article at The Des Moines Register and see a video of Jabre and Nicholle White speaking on camera directly below.

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