Jabre White
Jabre White

School officials in Des Moines, Iowa, are pursuing disciplinary action against a white high school teacher who told African-American senior Jabre White to refer to him as “master,” harkening back to slavery.

While Roosevelt High School teacher Shawn McCurtain claimed in an apologetic phone call to Jabre’s mother, Nicholle White, that he was trying to be funny, she didn’t think he was sincere.

The incident occurred last month when McCurtain told students to head downstairs to take their final in economics.

“Yes, sir,” Jabre White says he told the teacher, according to several published reports about the incident.

“You meant to say, ‘Yes, sir, master,'” the student said the teacher shot back at him.

White, a popular senior at the Des Moines high school who just graduated and is headed to Iowa State University in the fall, was shocked and hurt. His mother was outraged. She is frustrated that the school district has not disclosed to her how they responded to McCurtain.

“I have tried to be humble,” she told USA Today 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.”

After she complained, the school’s vice principal, Joseph Blazevich, investigated and confirmed the comment was made.

Blazevich wrote in an email to White that he thought the incident was “terrible” and “shameful,” and added that “the instructor was very remorseful.” But he added that he could not say what disciplinary action was pursued because district personnel matters are confidential under state law.

District 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.

After hearing McCurtain’s comment, Jabre admits he said, “Who the f— are you talking to? You’re nobody’s master, and this is not the slave days.”

But the new graduate made so many improvements during his time at the school that at graduation principal Kevin Biggs awarded Jabre the school’s Wanda Everage Award, given to a senior who best “embodies qualities of respect and responsibility to Roosevelt,” according to reports.

About 22 percent of Roosevelt’s students are African-American, 54 percent are white and 11 percent are Hispanic. 

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