Lincoln Brown claims he used the word as part of a lesson on racism and has filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Public Schools system after he was suspended for the incident.
Brown continues to teach at Murray Language Academy while going through the disciplinary process, which started more than four months ago. On Friday, he served the first of a five, non-continuous day suspension that he says is a result the school's principal taking his remarks out of context.
"This cannot be a part of what people think I am. My character has been assassinated," Brown said.
Visibly upset, Brown sat in a conference room recounting the sixth grade social studies lesson that led to his suspension, and to what he fears may be the end of his career as a teacher. Brown teaches at Hyde Park's Murray Language Academy and on one day last October he used the "n" word in class.
"We talked about racial stereotyping and how that word has shaped people's ideas of who you are," Brown said.
The conversation started, says Brown, when he intercepted a note in which one girl had written a rap song about another girl in which she called her the "n" word. Brown says he saw this as a teachable moment and began to discuss the history of the word.
"I cannot tell you how much it hurts me to say it," Brown said.
Just as he did say it, Brown says, the school's principal, Gregory Mason walked in and remained for several minutes.
"...I was happy that that Mason was in class," Brown said. "His presence made me believe he supported me."
Two weeks later, Brown was called to the principal's office and given this notice of a pre-disciplinary hearing. The notice said that Brown was accused of, "using verbally abusive language to or in front of students."
That hearing determined that brown would receive a five day suspension without pay. Brown and his attorney appealed that decision, but that too was rejected. They are now suing the principal, CPS and the board of education.
"It goes to the heart of the first amendment," William Spielberger, attorney, said. "We want the board of education to change their policy to allow this type of discussion to occur."
In response, CPS director of communications Robyn Ziegler issued a statement Friday, "The principal determined that the way the teacher used the word was improper and imposed a short suspension. The...The teacher has received sufficient due process. In our opinion, his federal lawsuit is without merit."
"The principal determined that the way the teacher used the word was improper and imposed a short suspension....The teacher has received sufficient due process. In our opinion, his federal lawsuit is without merit."
Brown says he's received the support of most of his students' parents and the students themselves. But that this whole situation has destroyed his health and he fears he may not be able to continue working at Murray, no matter what the lawsuit's outcome.