Asian American leaders in Wausau, Wisconsin, have signed an open letter expressing their outrage over the reinstatement of a high school band teacher accused of homophobic and racist speech.
Last month, Robert Perkins was removed from the Wausau East High School after students claimed he used homophobic and anti-Asian racial slurs in class.
According to the open letter, which was posted on Facebook, Perkins has had six complaints filed against him since September 2022 regarding his alleged “gross misconduct” and use of racist slurs.
Perkins has repeatedly violated multiple [Wausau School District] policies. Instead of holding him accountable for his behavior and rhetoric, [Wausau School District] condones teachers calling our children “chink”, “monkey”, “f*got [sic]”, “ching chong” and attacking their sexual orientation when it’s done under the guise of “fun”.
Perkins was reinstated after an internal investigation was completed by the school district.
On April 26, Wausau School District Superintendent Keith Hilts sent a letter to parents that said Perkins’ “language does not rise to the level of discrimination or harassment.”
While a preponderance of the evidence shows that Mr. Perkins did not engage in harassing or discriminatory behavior, he did engage in insensitive and unprofessional conduct. Witnesses indicate that he did use language that could be insensitive to students of different protected classes, including race and sex, but that language does not rise to the level of discrimination or harassment.
The district’s compliance officer interviewed Perkins, students and their parents before determining that Perkins used “insensitive language” that caused the children to feel “unease.”
Perkins, who was named “Teacher of the Month” in January, has not publicly commented on the issue.
Thavone Vongphakdy, the father of a student who was affected by Perkins’ comments, expressed disappointment regarding the investigation, noting that his son has not attended school in weeks due to the teacher’s actions.
“When I saw it in my son’s eyes as he’s crying on the floor, it broke my heart that a grown man can do this to my son,” Vongphakdy told WAOW.
Asian American leaders wrote in their letter that the district’s decision sends “a strong message that using racist, sexist, and homophobic slurs are permissible, so long as they are made in good faith.”
Leaders are demanding the school do more to reprimand the alleged behavior, noting that Perkins’ use of racial slurs can have a “long-lasting” and “detrimental” impact on the affected students.
In a press release last week, the school district described the case as an “educational opportunity.”
According to Hilt, the district will hire a consultant to improve its staff and schools for the students.
Wausau’s population is 81% white, but has a large Hmong-Lao community, according to census data.