Mother McAuley teacher fired for using racial slur repeatedly in class hopes to get job back

Former teacher Mary DeVoto says 'I can't believe it fell out of my mouth'
CHICAGO (WLS) -- A longtime Mother McAuley High School teacher is hoping to get her job back after she was fired for using a racial slur repeatedly.

"I can't believe it fell out of my mouth," said Mary DeVoto, who taught at the Mount Greenwood all-girls Catholic school for more than four decades.

The incident happened during a world history class last Friday.

While explaining why the names of some sports teams are derogatory toward Native Americans, DeVoto attempted to draw a parallel to the N-word. And she said the slur twice.

A student captured audio of DeVoto saying the racial slur.

"If I could take it back in a heartbeat, I would," DeVoto said.

DeVoto said she was taken out of class and suspended that day.

On Monday, she was fired.

"It's just not appropriate for any educator to say that word in class, especially as a white woman," said Sheena Gray, whose daughter attends the school.

Gray said she contacted the school's principal about DeVoto's comments.

School officials said DeVoto continued to use the racial slur during a meeting with school officials and that led to her firing.

In a statement, the school said, "These actions were made necessary because of a subsequent conversation with the teacher in which the same racial slur was communicated in its entirety several times despite clear and formal directives to stop. The N-word is never acceptable."

DeVoto wrote a letter expressing her remorse to the Mother McAuley community. She said she wishes she was given an opportunity to apologize for her actions in front of students.

"I think it is really important that I show them I made a mistake." DeVoto said. "I want to show that to them. There is power to admitting your mistakes."

But for Gray it's too late.

"After she lost her job, now she wants to apologize and make it better with the students, and, in my opinion, that should have been done right away," Gray said.

DeVoto released an additional statement Friday, saying "I am disappointed by the statement released by Mother McAuley yesterday. I never used this term in 41 years of teaching at Mother McAuley. I have committed publicly on several occasions that I would never use it again. The additional use of the term mentioned in Mother McAuley's statement were in my meeting with the principal when I was asked by the principal to explain what had occurred. That the administration is now making baseless assertions as to what I might do in the future is a clear sign of the overwhelming support I have received from the Mother McAuley community and the administration's increasingly untenable refusal to engage with me as to how we can work together to get me back into my classroom."

Full statement from Mother McAuley High School:

On Friday, January 28, 2022, the Mother McAuley administration learned of the usage of a racial slur in a social science class. Communication went out to parents/guardians that afternoon and a formal investigation was launched. Mother McAuley does not condone this language and is deeply saddened by the hurt and pain this has caused our students and community.

During the investigation, Mother McAuley learned in greater detail what transpired in the social science class. With the intent to emphasize the abhorrence of slurs, the teacher wrongfully compared and egregiously miscommunicated two racial slurs, including using the N-word in its entirety.

As an educational institution, we recognize mistakes happen to each one of us, and we make every effort, regardless of the popularity of such decisions, to embrace the opportunity to learn from such teachable moments. To embrace mistakes means we must learn not to repeat such behaviors, to demonstrate clear remorse and to be able to rebuild trust that has been lost.

Based upon the comprehensive investigation into the incident, we are deeply saddened that these actions were made necessary because of a subsequent conversation with the teacher in which the same racial slur was communicated in its entirety several times despite clear and formal directives to stop. The N-word is never acceptable in any gathering of or setting within the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.

Ultimately, the administration was not confident the language usage would cease and trust could be rebuilt. As a result, the teacher will not be returning to Mother McAuley.

Further, over the past two years, Mother McAuley has enacted a comprehensive, multi-tiered plan to foster a community that honors the dignity of every individual. As we have been focused on Building Equity this school year, our faculty and staff attended training sessions focused on Culturally Responsive Education with the goal of establishing and creating the necessary foundation for a truly equitable and inclusive school community. This training included effective communication tools, foundational equity language, and understanding identity markers.
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