Toby Price never imagined he’d be fired for reading a book.
The Mississippi assistant principal has been let go after he read the humorous children’s book I Need a New Butt to a Grade 2 class over Zoom.
“It never crossed my mind that reading a book would be something that I would be terminated for. Never, ever could I fathom this,” Price, who has been an educator for more than 20 years, told As It Happens guest host Gillian Findlay.
“It came way out of left field.”
It all started on March 1 when a group of second graders at Gary Road Elementary school in Byrum, Miss., logged onto Zoom for a reading, but the guest who had been booked to read didn’t show up.
“So my boss texted me and told me to read, so I grabbed one of my favorites that was nearby,” Price said.
‘No ifs, ands, or butts about it’
The book in question — I Need a New Butt written by Dawn McMillan and illustrated by Ross Kinnaird — is targeted at children ages four to 10. It follows the story of a boy who notices the crack in his butt for the first time, and mistakenly believes it must be broken, so he decides he needs a new one.
“Will he choose an armor-plated butt? A rocket butt? A robot butt? Find out in this quirky tale of a tail, which features hilarious rhymes and delightful illustrations,” reads a description from the book’s publisher. “Children and parents will love this book — no ifs, ands, or butts about it!”
The kids did indeed love it, says Price.
“You could see the smiles on their faces and afterwards, you know, they were coming up to me and telling me, ‘Hey, Mr. Price. The book was really funny. Thank you for reading it to us,'” he said .
But his bosses didn’t feel the same way.
He says he was called into the superintendent’s office later that day and given a stern talking-to, after which he was asked to resign.
“I called my wife, and my wife told me, ‘You know, if you sign that resignation, it’s almost like you’re walking away saying that they were right and you were wrong. And you weren’t wrong,'” he said.
“So I stood up and put my chin up, sucked in all my tears and walked out of the building to let them know I was leaving and I would not be resigning, and got in my car and cried all the way home.”
Two days later, he was terminated.
You’ve got to show them that books can be fun and silly and engaging.– Toby Price, fired teacher
In Price’s termination letter, Hinds County Schools Superintendent Delesicia Martin cited “unnecessary embarrassment, a lack of professionalism and impaired judgment” on Price’s part in picking the book.
The letter, shared in full by the free speech literary organization PEN America, notes that Price violated the school’s code of conduct by using “inappropriate” words like “fart.”
The school did not respond to a request for comment from As It Happens.
Price, meanwhile, stands by his selection. As far as he’s aware, no students or parents lodged complaints about the reading.
“I know my audience, you know, second-grade reluctant readers,” he said. “You’ve got to show them that books can be fun and silly and engaging. You know, you want them to put down their phone and pick up a book.”
Now Price says he’s left wondering how he will care for his three children, two of whom have autism.
“This is not just a road bump for us. This is, you know, two flat tires and we’re stuck on the side of the road,” he said.
Since the news broke about his firing, Price says he’s received a ton of support, including from his former students and their parents. Several children’s book authors and free speech organizations have spoken out in his favor.
“Your decision to punish Mr. Price for reading this book is deeply concerning. It is a threat to the freedom to read, learn, and teach, which should be protected and upheld in schools,” reads a press release by PEN America.
“Reading and sharing literature, even on silly topics, should be celebrated in public education, not become a cause for punishment.”
I would do it all again
Price says he’s raising money online for a lawyer and plans to fight for his job. He has a hearing scheduled for March 21.
Despite all his troubles, he says that if he had his time back, he would still pick I Need A New Butt to read to the kids.
“Someone asked that question of me the other day and my daughter answered for me. She said, ‘You know what? He would pick that book again, and he’d probably pick another book that was just like it,'” he said .
“And you know what? She’s right.”
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview produced by Morgan Passi.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism