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Sunday, March 3, 2024

A Tuttle tale

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In loco parentis is a Latin phrase that means “in the place of a parent”. Most frequently applied to teachers and school administrators, the doctrine refers to the authority of adults to act as though they are a child’s parent in certain circumstances (e.g., while the child is at school). It is a powerful privilege to which great responsibility should attach. In exchange for parents’ implicit agreement with this principle, they explicitly expect the adults in question to act responsibly with regard to their child(ren).

Nathan Tuttle is the former CEO and Executive Director of the Edison School of the Arts. A few months ago, Tuttle was publicly accused of engaging in racist behavior towards a group of African American students who were under his care at Edison. A number of students, parents, and staff have said that Tuttle – who is white – repeatedly used the “N-word” after overhearing a Black student use it among his classmates.

I have spoken with several students and parents who were involved in this very unfortunate situation. As has been widely reported, this was not the first incident concerning Tuttle. He has been accused of engaging in a longstanding pattern of objectionable behavior, including bullying, racial harassment, and displaying an abusive attitude. Scores of students, parents, teachers, and staff attested to the same during a recent school board meeting. They spoke in tones ranging from dejection to acrimony about having to “walk on eggshells” so as not to trigger Tuttle, who they allege created a very hostile environment at the school.

Edison’s school board fired Tuttle after an investigation into the specific incident in question. In response to being terminated, Tuttle filed a tort claim against the school in March, followed by a federal discrimination complaint in April. He argues that he did not receive due process prior to his firing and that he is the victim of discrimination based upon his race and his sexual orientation. (Tuttle is openly gay.) The courts will sort out those issues.

Tuttle has stated that he did not use the N-word “against” the students, claiming that he merely said it in disciplining one of them – instructing him (and the rest who were present) not to use that word. The students have emphatically and consistently denied that was the case, indicating that Tuttle’s use of the word was excessive and used in a way that left them feeling intentionally targeted. Perhaps most disturbingly, the students say that Tuttle told them that he “could use the word because (his) son is Black”.

I wrote a column last fall in which I expressed the following:

“… as a man I can’t imagine being upset that I’m prohibited from using the ‘B-word’ when referring to women, whereas women are able to do so (playfully or otherwise) if they so choose. Indeed, I haven’t come across any men who have expressed disappointment at not being afforded the latitude that women have in using that word. If I ever do, I’ll quickly admonish them to get over it.

Similarly, as a heterosexual man, I’ve never been envious of the fact that gay men have license to call each other names that have historically been used to degrade and dehumanize them. I can only assume that they have much the same feeling as do Black folks who call each other the N-word. In other words, gay men are free to engage in linguistic jujitsu to disarm words that originated as slurs against them.”

The point of that column was to explain why white people should not use the N-word – and should stop claiming victimhood because they’re prohibited from doing so. If Tuttle did use that word, especially in concert with such a ridiculous defense, he deserves the opprobrium that has been directed toward him. Given that he adopted a Black young man, he should be on the vanguard in ensuring that white people do not use that word. One can’t help but to wonder whether he uses such language with – or within earshot of – his son. In that event, the notion of in loco parentis would have even deeper implications than it normally does.


For more news courtesy of the Indianapolis Recorder, click here.

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