A private religious school sits off Interstate-70 in the Denver suburb of Arvada, located in the center-north portion of Colorado’s neat square of the country. Founded in 1972 as the Jesus Center, the school later redubbed itself Faith Christian Academy (a name admittedly suggesting more school, less cult to potentially interested parents). Their current campus by the highway is a later addition, opened in the mid-1990s after the school’s roster outgrew its previous locale. FCA converted a failed health club into two stories of classrooms, one library, and a workable cafeteria. It kept the basketball gym intact, and left the racquetball courts likewise untouched. The building is a bulky white stucco block, accompanied by its own billboard (itself rising right beside I-70, a lucrative advertising location if ever there was one).
In the waning winter months of 2018, FCA’s high school campus made the local news. The school stood suddenly accused of wrongfully firing one of its prominent staff members.
Under normal circumstances, a lone teacher’s plight against allegedly unjustified termination at a small-ish school in the suburbs is the sort of story that would warrant media coverage amounting to zilch.
These were not normal circumstances.
Tolstoy’s famed opening line of Anna Karenina applies to academic institutions almost as well as families. Happy schools all boast a recognizable vibe of collective confidence and shared success. But every unhappy school is unhappy in its very own miserable way.
A slew of events from the fall of 2016 leading up to February 26, 2018 — the day Mr. Tucker and FCA parted ways — suggest a particular unhappiness may have been afflicting this particular school. According to student and parent accounts, as well as school-affiliated sources, those events encompass a range of racist incidents.
In one case, a group of white teens allegedly stacked their backpacks around a Hispanic student’s desk and jeered, “See if you can jump over that wall.” In another Election 2016-inspired theme, one white student allegedly told a Hispanic classmate, “I can’t wait for Trump to build the wall so your parents can’t come in.”
The n-word seems to have enjoyed remarkable popularity at FCA. Anonymous student comments directed at Mr. Tucker, who has an adopted black daughter, labeled him a “n—-r,” a “n—-r lover,” and “n—-r father,” the word written out in its full original spelling. He was also dubbed a “cuckservative,” and one perhaps confused teen simply wrote of Mr. Tucker: “Build a Wall!” In a separate class, several students reportedly posted the n-word in their anonymous usernames during an online group activity.
On one occasion, a white student allegedly asked a black student, “If I hurt you, would it be considered assault or destruction of property?” And during FCA’s summer football camp, a number of white players were accused of locking a black teammate out of their dorm and telling him they wouldn’t be “letting the slave in.” Perhaps not much of a surprise here: they also allegedly called him the n-word. All this and more, at one Christian high school, in roughly 18 months, in the 21st century.
This environment would seem to explain at least in part why nine minority students left FCA within a two-year span. FCA’s superintendent, Mr. Andrew Hasz, states that of those nine students, six left the school for disciplinary reasons. He also asserts that FCA was made aware only once that racism was the reason for a student’s decision to leave. Other school-affiliated sources have questioned that account.
Either way, with FCA’s population of just under 400 students, only a fraction of whom identify as non-white, the loss of nine minority teens seemed to represent a Come to Jesus kind of moment.
That’s at least how the problem looked to Mr. Tucker. He’d taught at FCA since 2000, excepting a few years spent abroad in the Dominican Republic. Mr. Tucker’s first gig at the school was teaching in the science department, but he moved up from there. By the start of the 2017-2018 school year, Mr. Tucker was serving as FCA’s Dean of Student Life.
He had established a strong rapport with many FCA students; he’s also part of a biracial family. Perhaps this unusual-to-FCA combination explains why, according to several sources, Mr. Tucker became the go-to teacher for kids experiencing racial harassment at FCA. Disturbed by the stories he’d been hearing, Mr. Tucker began investigating in the spring of 2017 to learn more about the events described above. He concluded the student body stood to benefit from more direct discourse on racism, and thus set a chapel entitled “Race and Faith” on the school calendar in early 2018, scheduled to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The chapel — which, for those unschooled in Christian-ese, is basically a church service for young people — was sanctioned as a general concept by FCA administration and then organized by Mr. Tucker. He selected three panelists for the event: Jason Janz, a pastor at an ethnically diverse church in Denver; Kellyn Lovell, a grant writer working with black communities in the non-profit sphere; and, Neal Spadafora, a 2015 FCA graduate who helped found Students for Truth, Justice and Reconciliation at Grand Canyon University where he’s an undergraduate.
All three panelists are white, a decision Mr. Tucker said was intentional. According to a video transcript of the chapel, he explained to his student audience: “I think based on the way people tend to process racism and bias and prejudice, that white people who have had little to no interaction with minorities, or little experience with this issue, which is realistically the case with many people in this room, they’re usually more comfortable, at least initially, hearing these ideas from other white voices.”
The panelists focused on their own awakenings to the fact that life in the United States as a white person differed meaningfully from the experience of minorities. All three had eventually concluded the fight to eradicate racial inequality was emphatically a Christian one.
“I think ultimately that we should care about this issue because Jesus cares about this issue,” Spadafora said.
In their closing comments, the panelists emphasized the importance of seeking out relationships with minorities and quieting oneself in order to better hear someone else’s story.
According to several sources, the message garnered mixed student reactions in real time; FCA administration voiced no immediate concerns. But the chapel’s content set off a group of white parents — enough so that Mr. Hasz agreed to meet and discuss their concerns. Besides Mr. Tucker himself, no other teachers were invited to attend. Mr. Tucker subsequently found himself uninvited, with the administration informing him his presence would make the parents feel uncomfortable. (Mr. Hasz stated in an email that the meeting’s schedule had simply been changed in order to avoid potential conflict with a planned protest, but that appears to have been in reference to a different meeting.)
One teacher who remained on FCA’s staff after Mr. Tucker had been let go reports that the video tape recording of the parent meeting was intentionally gotten rid of by FCA administration. Whether or not that’s the case, the school says it no longer has the recording.
A third party present in the room kept their own recording and has provided a transcript of the entire conversation that ensued.
“Institutional bullying” is how one parent described the chapel. “An indoctrination,” said another. Multiple parents decried the “social justice” message.
There came an accusation of “poor judgment” in making FCA’s white students “feel guilty about having the time of their lives when they are very vulnerable.” A different parent touted their “very good relationship” with Mr. Tucker, offering respect to him “as a teacher.” The problem was him “leaning much more toward the political left.”
A haze of incoherency emerges at times from the transcript, as if certain speakers do not grasp their own contradictions. One parent stated: “Before this chapel, our students, family and staff, did not regard each other based on race or ethnicity.” And yet, his very next sentences qualify: “I’m sure there were exceptions. Perhaps there were even nine disturbing instances as Mr. Tucker quoted.”
With the size of FCA’s minority population, “nine disturbing instances” would theoretically impact a significant percentage of non-white students on campus. It is an open question what precise number of racist incidents would signal to this gentleman a genuine problem. The same parent would go on to say that if racial diversity were a priority, he’d have sent his children to Manual High School (a Denver school with a majority-minority student population).
In an ethically questionable move, a different parent shared private Facebook messages between herself and Mr. Tucker, arguing that he was “no longer able to control himself and is influencing our students.” She had kicked off one such message by expressing her disappointment in Mr. Tucker’s support for Hillary Clinton. He had replied: “I have a tremendous amount of respect for you. Though, as I said before, I’m having a hard time reconciling your work in teaching young people about healthy Godly relationships while supporting a candidate who [SIC] antithesis of that.” Apparently, this woman found Mr. Tucker’s observation that Donald Trump might not especially exemplify “godly relationships” a frightening sign of radical student indoctrination to come.
When she did try to interject in Mr. Tucker’s defense, a minority parent was shouted down. But the most disturbing moment wasn’t captured in the transcript. “A parent of a black child went outside and fell on the floor crying, sobbing. She could not believe it,” says Nancy Felix, the mother of a minority student at FCA. The “it” being, in Felix’s words, the “amount of hate in that room.” (Felix came to the meeting after hearing about it by chance — she says that neither she nor any other minority parents were intentionally invited.)
Back in the meeting, one white parent would go on to ask: “Do we continue on a goal of making us aware of our biases and continue on this?” He meant the question to be rhetorical. He believed the obvious answer should be no.
The transcript indicates that while FCA administration offered no robust defense of Mr. Tucker — nor did they volunteer the rather pertinent fact that they had sanctioned the chapel — neither does it demonstrate they were immediately inclined to jump on the Mr.-Tucker-Must-Pay bandwagon. But FCA pretty quickly changed its tune.
Just two days after the gathering of white parents convened to air their grievances over Mr. Tucker’s “Race and Faith” message, he was demoted and stripped of future chapel-planning input. Roughly three weeks later, he was told his contract would not be renewed at the end of the year. By the close of February, Mr. Tucker was gone from FCA.
He sent an open letter on Feb. 6 to the community, explaining his desire for peace and reconciliation, extending an invitation to any and all who had found the chapel offensive to come have dinner at his house and question away.
A petition went live on Feb. 19 to keep Mr. Tucker employed, garnering hundreds of signatures within a week.
He’d spent well over a decade on staff at FCA, building a reputation as one of the school’s best and most beloved teachers.
FCA let Mr. Tucker go anyway.
Mya’s a state-winning gymnast in vault, and admits herself to have been a fairly popular student at FCA (she graduated in May). There’s a winsome persistence to her upbeat energy, palpable even over the phone — she’s quick to laugh, and speaks with a swiftness and clarity uncommon in 18-year-olds. While relating stories of being the target of racism at the school (she identifies as African-American), Mya also seems hopeful that the sting of seriousness can be shrugged off. Recalling the uptick in racial hostilities over the past several months, Mya sums up her response thusly: “I’m like, oh geez, this is spooky.”
In January, an artwork created by FCA student Levi Ebeling and featuring Mya went up at FCA as part of a larger student art show. Straightforward and rendered starkly, the piece presents three black-and-white photos of Mya in ordered sequence. She is clad in a plain black t-shirt and staring directly into the camera in each frame. Her expression appears neutral and unadorned in the first — except for a thick black strip of tape covering her mouth. In the second photo, half the tape has disappeared as Mya pulls a brush covered with white paint down the dark skin of her left cheek. By the third and final photo, the teenager’s face is completely covered, a mask of viscous white, the black tape gag gone completely.
Handwritten large above the photos is a question: MAY I SPEAK NOW?
Twenty minutes after its installment, Mya says the piece was taken down following a parent complaint that purportedly criticized the unmissable message that non-white students were being silenced. Rather than grapple with the issue, FCA appears to have opted for censorship.
And censorship rarely goes down in a vacuum. In fact, the whole of FCA’s high school student body had attended Mr. Tucker’s “Race and Faith” chapel just ten days prior. (Mr. Hasz did not respond to questions about the timing of Ebeling’s artwork display and subsequent removal.)
Despite her popularity (or perhaps because of it), Mya says she was one of the students routinely targeted by the n-word, her passage through FCA hallways often met by offhand remarks from fellow students. Remarks like “Black lives don’t matter.”
With Mr. Tucker gone, Mya says minority students at FCA lost their most vocal advocate — especially as there are no non-white teachers on staff at the high school. “We would go to talk to Mr. Tucker, ‘cuz he was the only teacher that would care to listen, and he would want to take action,” she says. “That’s why it was really devastating when he got fired.”
Other currently enrolled minority students at FCA did not come forward, a silence Mya attributes primarily to fear and exhaustion, even acceptance of the status quo. She describes one black friend as “shut down so hard.” Of FCA’s culture, Mya says her friend just “internalizes it,” even telling her, “Hey, at least there’s no segregation. I should be happy that I get to go here.”
An international student told Mya that a teacher said to her, “You’re only smart because you’re Asian.” But she doesn’t speak up because, in Mya’s paraphrase, “You know what, I’m grateful I’m here, I don’t want to get deported back.”
In Mya’s case, the many comments directed at her came from people she didn’t know — and also people she knew quite well. “I’ve had close friends, like one of my best friends call me that [the n-word] repeatedly,” Mya says. Her pals would often jokingly say things like, “Oh, go get me this, you’re my slave.”
Her mother, Nancy Felix, tells another story from a few years ago, when two seniors wore black face masks during a Homecoming day designated for dressing up like villains. Apart from the obvious blackface involved, the implied message was that blackness in and of itself is a mode of villainy. Yet according to Ms. Felix, the student offenders faced no disciplinary consequences. They weren’t even asked to remove their masks until the very end of the day, after she called the school to complain. Ms. Felix says the administration told her the boys insisted they were dressed up as Obama, never mind the ubiquitous availability of actual Obama face masks. (Never mind the rather dubious absolution this explanation would theoretically provide them.)
There’s also the case of a student who allegedly wore neo-Nazi symbols to school and not only went unpunished, but continued wearing the same apparel even after local TV news broke the silence on his open embrace of bigot-proud fashion. Mya says he wore an offending jacket to school regularly. “Every day.”
She’s assertive and admirably courageous, but Mya was still a high school teenager. So with her daughter, Nancy Felix says she spent a lot of time just “supporting her and making sure she knows it’s not in her head.” The need for that encouragement never abated.
After local media turned the spotlight on FCA, Mya says some teachers told students the allegations against the school were fabricated. “It’s fake, don’t believe it.” But if the news reports are “fake,” Mya’s story must be untrue. What she’s experienced can be dismissed — no response and no justice required.
Mya says, “That’s so hurtful, you know?”
In the months since Mr. Tucker’s story fled the compound of FCA control, there’s been a veritable deluge of alumni coming forward with stories — some dating back many years, but most from the recent past — alleging the school’s guilt on dozens of counts of racism, along with a litany of other forms of harassment.
Jaren Thomas — an FCA alumni who identifies as African-American — recently wrote a two-page statement to FCA’s administration. A student of the school from kindergarten through 12th grade, Thomas recounts several instances of racism he encountered while at FCA, noting that while racial discrimination no doubt occurs in other spaces, “even while I was a part of the Faith [community] I never encountered the kind of insensitivity or ignorance outside the community as I did inside it.” Thomas says the reason for this is “the homogenous makeup of the school and faculty, which in turn begets a community where education on real world problems such as race are seen as irrelevant.” He notes that in 16 years of school at FCA, he knew of only one minority teacher — and that person did not stay on staff long.
According to another source, two black students signed up a few years ago to be class coaches during an annual Homecoming powder puff football game. Allegedly, when they showed up for practice, their names had been crossed off the sign-up sheet. They were the only black students to put their names on the list, and theirs were the only names mysteriously marked out. The source reports that when one of the black students explained to Mr. Hasz — at the time, FCA’s high school principal — that someone else had scratched out their names but they still wanted to participate, he told them it was too late. The source alleges that Brian Wall, FCA’s then-superintendent, intervened and insisted that both black students be put back on their respective powder-puff teams. In response, all other student coaches allegedly quit, along with half of those who had signed up to play. (Mr. Hasz has vehemently denied this particular allegation, writing in an email statement, “I know that the issue of race was never a part of it, and as such I’m quite certain that it was not 2 black students who had their names removed.”)
Another source reports an adult informed FCA administration that a group of white football players had donned homemade KKK hoods and romped around pretending to shoot black players during football camp. Reportedly, the administration’s response was a proverbial shoulder shrug, that the incident had occurred too long in the past for any disciplinary action. The source alleges that FCA administration also said that punishing the student perpetrators might cause problems for a certain pastor whose son would be implicated.
Notably, the source claims no one denied the event in question had taken place. According to the proffered timeline of events, FCA administration learned of the mock execution incident just weeks after it happened, and the students involved were all very much (and very recently) enrolled at FCA. That statute of limitations would seem exceptionally brief, especially considering the circumstances: white teens wearing KKK getup enacting the murder of black peers. (Citing the ongoing legal case against the school, Mr. Hasz said he could not respond to questions about this incident.)
Maria McVicker, parent of a former FCA high school student and longtime friend of Mr. Tucker’s, has been compiling these testimonials. She’s not reticent to share her take on what happened to Mr. Tucker (known to her as “Gregg”). For both Maria and her husband, Charles, the parent meeting following the “Race and Faith” chapel amounted to a character assassination. As Mr. McVicker puts it, “The chapel was being used as an excuse to target a teacher who did not share their particular political beliefs.”
Ms. McVicker also finds suspect the lack of email correspondence with parents to clarify the consequences for racist behavior. She says the administration would “regularly communicate via email with FCA parents regarding smoking, drugs, vaping, sexuality, sexting and other topics.” Ms. McVicker assumed they’d do the same after she learned about some of the instances of racist behavior listed above. But “there was nothing. No articles sent home, no educational links and no addressing of what had happened in the classroom.” In an email correspondence, Mr. Hasz says he contacted parents about vaping because the “trend is something that is somewhat of an unknown commodity to our parents, so there was communication about what it was and clarifying that it does, in fact, fall under our honor code.” Ms. McVicker paints a different picture, saying the administration’s silence on racist behavior was “in sharp contrast” to the way other incidents besides vaping (“sexting, etc.”) were handled by FCA head honchos.
The McVickers dis-enrolled their son from FCA this year and they’ve tidily detached themselves from any inclination to protect the school. And as it turns out, that’s no small feat.
Many of the anonymous sources behind the stories amassing under the #truthatfca umbrella cite close connections to FCA of one kind or another for their decision to remain unnamed. No one wants to risk the academic or economic wellbeing of a loved one, much less smear or implicate their name by association.
It’s a tight, wide web FCA has woven, intentionally or not.
But it may be unraveling. Ms. McVicker has currently collected 37 statements from self-identified FCA alumni and parents. Others have spoken out on their own platforms. Social media-friendly sound bites are available on Instagram. Word is out.
Additionally, Mr. Tucker is now the plaintiff in a wrongful termination lawsuit against FCA, filed with the Colorado Civil Rights Division and the EEOC, a pretty momentous development.
There could be potential legal trouble for the school on other fronts. One former student has alleged that after she told FCA administration her father had physically assaulted her, Mr. Hasz and FCA’s high school principal, Mr. Michael Cook, persuaded her to take it back. (Mr. Hasz did not respond to questions about this particular allegation.) She describes her father’s relationship to Mr. Hasz and Mr. Cook as that of a “colleague,” which suggests the two men might have been personally invested in protecting his reputation. And while there’s plenty of room for moral outrage in this young woman’s case, what sets her story apart is the fact that, legally speaking, Mr. Hasz and Mr. Cook are subject to mandatory reporting laws.
If they did in fact fail to alert outside authorities to the self-reported abuse of a minor, FCA would have broken the law.
In the year 2000, graduation requirements obliged me to enroll in Mr. Tucker’s Practical Physics course. Nursing a general aversion to the sciences, already suffering from senioritis, and juggling a host of miseries both familiar and less so (see below) to most traversers of adolescence, I was not in what you’d call an agreeable state of mind for 1st period lessons on hypotenuse and the peculiarities of gravitational force.
But as the weeks went on, to my surprise and frankly against my will, I came to enjoy learning the laws of physics and their real-world implications.
Young and energetic, Mr. Tucker was that teacher, the one whose enthusiasm would border on embarrassing if it weren’t so contagious. (Cue the hazy vision of exuberant youths standing atop desks, the faint echoes of “O Captain, My Captain.”) Mr. Tucker did what all great teachers do: present and embody the intrinsic wonder and joy of learning about the world, unfettered. Of seeking freely the question and answer, wherever they may lead.
So in March, when I saw high school friends posting stories about Mr. Tucker, when I heard rumors that he’d been fired in connection with confronting racism, I felt primarily heartbroken that such a teacher would ever be let go. But the particulars of the story — the allegations of racism, the school’s cold willingness to exile a well-meaning person — triggered a different reaction. It was the way I imagine most feel when an open secret they’ve been privy to for years suddenly hits the headlines. Is someone finally saying this out loud?
My class was one of the first to graduate in 2001 from FCA’s highway campus. Like a significant portion of 18-year-olds everywhere, the primary emotion on graduation day was relief. There, it’s over. College beckoned, its promise of new faces, academic enticements, and 20 hours of free time per day (Starbucks! Napster! Naps!) couldn’t come fast enough. But my relief ran perhaps deeper than the average high school senior.
FCA attempted to exercise vice grip control on student behavior, employing a lengthy outline of rules and retaliatory consequences for rule-breaking applicable both on and off school grounds (spelled out in FCA’s student handbook, known around campus as “The Code”). Certain behaviors are met with extreme consequences: sexual activity, smoking, taking drugs, and drinking alcohol — no matter when or where — would often get you expelled, or at the very least suspended. Well, welcome to Christian School 101. (It’s worth noting here that FCA has no comparable “zero tolerance” policy for racist behavior.)
Even innocuous activities like gum-chewing — provided the context of FCA’s rule code — could constitute rebellion, as in akin to the sin of witchcraft, as in: chew gum = be evil. In the same vein of ascribing spiritual bad faith to typical teenage antics, FCA was real serious about being on time. They used to permanently drop grades for tardies (I speak from experience). A friend of mine was barred from walking in our graduation ceremony because he’d been late to class too many times.
When it comes to doling out punishment, FCA’s embrace of punitive, reactionary discipline has never been the question.
The school also, as should be clear by this point, reserves the right to ignore their own Code strictures whenever it might benefit them to do so. It was not uncommon during my four years as an FCA high school student for key sports players to be granted extraordinary leniency when they broke the rules — even (especially) those Code sections involving FCA’s no-no obsessions: alcohol, drugs, and sex. Other FCA alumni and parents signal the school’s compensation for athletes hasn’t much changed in the 17 years since I graduated. (The school holds 30 state titles to its name, a none-too-shabby record for a school of its small size and relatively young history.) A similar special grace was often afforded to students whose fathers held prominent pastoral positions around Denver.
One doesn’t have to stretch the old imagination too hard to conceive a rationale for this. State championships attract publicity. And if a school is good enough for a pastor’s kid, it is certainly good enough for no-name congregants who can be counted on to follow in their church leader’s footsteps.
If FCA were not a self-proclaimed Christian entity dealing with minors, this might be written off as a merely unfortunate side effect of any such business model. But when certain Preferred Student Status teenagers at a Christian school face what appears to be nothing after committing clearly racist behavior, when a teacher gets the boot after trying to address the blinding hypocrisy therein, the stench of rot can be detected across state lines.
The root cause of racist incidents at FCA? That depends on who you ask.
Some parents and FCA-affiliated sources suggest the school has no major problem with racism — not really. They’ve concluded what happened to Mr. Tucker was wrong, but the why of his troubles can be traced straight to the moment he strayed out of the Trump fold. The irate parents who turned on Mr. Tucker did so out of tribal fidelity to the president, not animus towards minorities. Mr. Tucker’s “progressive” language about white privilege and whatnot just tripped a partisan land mine.
At that point, the story goes, FCA administration had been trapped. “They hold too much control at FCA” was a recurrent whispered aside, referencing certain parents with hefty bank statements and/or insider influence. What could Mr. Hasz or Mr. Cook (or FCA’s school board) do? The fist-shaking dads and moms were community pillars (and represented a significant chunk of tuition payers).
Chalk it up to small-town politicking, essentially. That’s the real story here. So goes the adult version.
No grown-up is inclined to say that any of FCA’s teachers or administrators could be racist or tolerant of racism. They’re not! Of course. After all, Mr. Tucker’s chapel on “Race and Faith” had the administration’s sanctioned approval. Several sources report the teaching staff were nearly unanimous in their support for him and what he was trying to do. Everyone working at FCA’s senior level would prefer if racist incidents disappeared from the school forever. Of course.
The parents who pushed Mr. Tucker out might not be racist either. Consider the argument: they’re really angry about just his politics. They’re invested in supporting Republicans, in backing Trump, maybe a little too much, sure. Maybe a lot too much. But at the end of the day, they’re upset by illegal immigration because it’s been handled poorly, because the United States can’t just absorb whole populations from “shithole” (but don’t use that language, please) countries. Based on the parent meeting transcript following Mr. Tucker’s chapel, these moms and dads reject all claims attached to identity politics as a fever dream of the godless Left. They don’t want their children indoctrinated with that kind of liberal ideology. This all has to do with policy stances, not personal ones. Obviously.
And the offending students are still minors. Of course. They’re teenagers, they’re going to do and say dumb teenage stuff. Sometimes it’s gross humor, sometimes it’s topically inappropriate. Sometimes, it’s racist. They’re still learning, they’re not adults yet (unless they get “dumb” with alcohol. Or vaping. Or sex.). The kids need guidance and love, maybe some correction, definitely a lot of forgiveness. Obviously.
The source of suffering for FCA’s minority students — the original instigator deserving of blame — is ever elusive. No one seems to know exactly how or why KKK hoods emerge at football camp, “n—-r” appears in student user names, “Black lives don’t matter” gets muttered in the hallways, Mr. Tucker is removed after trying to talk about it.
As Pilate was, so are all involved parties upset about the lamentable situation. They’ve got nothing against the innocent. They’d like all the unpleasantness to go away. Now. Immediately.
But listen to the targeted kids and a different pictures emerges. It was, after all, teenagers allegedly getting kicked off powder-puff football teams, getting called the n-word, getting their artwork taken down, getting targeted by home-spun KKK hoods. There were adults in place who were supposed to watch over them, who were ostensibly employed at FCA specifically to ensure such things never happened.
Mr. Hasz wrote in an email that many of the racist incidents now documented were unknown to him and the school at the their time of their occurrence. Let’s assume that’s true.
Now consider just one example and ask the obvious follow-up question: Why weren’t the teens who threw the n-word around like it was a spring day in Birmingham circa 1935 — why weren’t they more concerned about getting turned in? They couldn’t know for sure their black peers and classroom teachers wouldn’t go straight to the principal’s office and report the name-calling.
One true thing every school administration should know is that the students are always, always onto you. When FCA’s carefully crafted “official” message didn’t quite align with reality on the ground, the kids figured out real quick where FCA’s heart truly dwelt. In the case of Mya and her classmates, they had apparently long concluded it wasn’t exactly with the minority students. It seems clear no one sensed any grave threat to their enrollment status for casual cruelty of the racist variety, despite FCA’s meticulous Code permitting no wiggle room for a host of other transgressions. Some students apparently felt their place at FCA so secure that blatantly racist acts of a truly harrowing nature would go un-noted, unpunished. They were right.
Who was wrong?
I’ve found myself considering the worst case scenario, from FCA’s standpoint, if a dozen families pulled their kids over Mr. Tucker’s attentiveness to racism and his “problematic” politics. The school would lose those valuable tuition dollars, sure. And that might impact FCA’s budget, though not necessarily — they could appeal their case to Faith Bible Chapel, FCA’s affiliated church. Perhaps the larger congregation would answer the call to help cover the difference. If that didn’t work out, maybe all staff members take a pay cut. Maybe someone’s position is, sadly, eliminated. Maybe there are other ways to tighten up the financial ship. Whatever the outcome, FCA’s entire financial solvency almost certainly did not hang in the balance.
Allow this irate cohort of parents to storm off in a cloudy puff of white fragility and/or right-wing political outrage, and embrace the following testimony: here stands Faith Christian Academy, an institution ready to take a hit right in the money gut when defending a teacher for trying to highlight God’s truth on racial equality demands it. Such an act would classify as a) Christian, and simultaneously demonstrate real, b) faith. Christian and faith. Faith and Christian. That’s what we call a gimme.
But instead, FCA heard out the smattering of angry white parents and parted ways with Mr. Tucker, a man they had known and employed for 17 years, a man they had happily appointed as Dean of Student Life.
After the fact, Mr. Hasz sent out an email saying “race and equality” were in no way connected to Mr. Tucker’s leave, and that Mr. Tucker agreed with that assertion. Yet Mr. Tucker himself has publicly contradicted that story, saying he flat-out refused to sign a statement including that very same claim, presented to him by Mr. Hasz at the time of his departure.
These would appear to be conflicting stories.
But the school says it wants unity now. FCA wants reconciliation. Mr. Hasz acknowledged in an email that “the area of race has become a focal point for us recently, and we have actively sought to identify and implement steps we can take to promote a culture that is in alignment with our core values.” To this end, the school is focusing this year, according to Mr. Hasz, on Jesus’ “greatest” commandment of “loving God and loving others.” So. The school wants to move on.
Since the word “Christian” still sits in the school’s name, it’s worth asking — especially for those of us who also identify as “Christian” — if this is, in fact, a Christian solution.
Mr. Tucker, Mya, the nine dis-enrolled minority students, the many others who have faced racism and other forms of bigotry at FCA — there’s been no recourse for them. Mr. Tucker remains out a job. No one responded to his attempt at real reconciliation; not a single parent or FCA administrator took Mr. Tucker up on his offer of a home-cooked meal and post-chapel debrief. In Mya’s case, students and some teachers further ostracized her after she spoke out. A black teen still sat outside a locked dorm door while his football teammates called him a slave and a “n—–r.”
The Bible is indeed a big proponent of unity and peace. But it’s also a book that upholds justice, especially concerning matters of internal church corruption. Jesus’ anger is most famously on record that time he threw some mercenary salesmen out of the Temple for hawking overpriced goods in a place of worship.
So far, the only ones driven out of FCA by the revelations of racism are the victims of it and one adult ally. That tells you a lot about the school. Justice, this is not.
The final character of the hundreds of children and teenagers on FCA’s roster has yet to solidify. The adults in charge signed up to educate all these enrolled youngsters, including those who might enter the school with revolting ideas about race. That’s not to excuse the kids and teens making racist comments, wearing racist clothing, and reenacting racist atrocities of history past, much less the parental adults who exhibit zero qualms about kicking a good-hearted teacher to the curb for pointing out such actions are a problem. But the reason for FCA’s very existence ostensibly entails teaching the kids how to behave towards one another.
A crucial tenet of Christianity is indeed Jesus’ simple command to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” He deliberately went on to clarify that one’s neighbor is defined as any person out there in the world, full stop, period. Human equality and dignity — for anyone wondering, in Christian teaching it really is that straightforward.
But FCA’s administration failed utterly at conveying they were serious about this cornerstone of Christian theology. For that wholesale abdication of duty, there have been no consequences for anyone in a position of power.
To reiterate, that’s not justice. Which is to say, the “move on” future FCA is hoping to slide into soon cannot, by definition, be a fair one, let alone a so-called “Christian” one.
And if FCA won’t hold its own teachers and administrators accountable for the beliefs it claims to hold, it’s doubtful anyone else will. Private schools are subject (usually) to no one but themselves. When racism arises in public institutions — which, of course, it does — parents and students can appeal to the state and federal government if the local district won’t properly address the problem. Accusations of discriminatory behavior from students, teachers, coaches, and/or administrators can trigger outside investigation, scaled-up oversight, a reshuffling or even removal of staff. None of that has occurred in defense of minority students at FCA.
One could argue that since attendance at a private school is chosen, the self-selection process would be an ostensible check on a school like FCA. But generally speaking, parents at the school — besides the ones advocating for Mr. Tucker’s termination — probably aren’t aware of the whole picture. The administration has remained stalwart in its claim to innocence, an angle any parent who has invested thousands of dollars into this institution would want to believe. Plus, this story is one “with legs,” as they say in the media biz. New information emerges on the regular. It’s hard to keep up.
Their kids are connected to FCA through sports, music, arts, etc., not to mention friends, that trump card issue for most teens. Maybe a few parents will move elsewhere, disturbed enough by Mr. Tucker’s conspicuous leave. More likely, most will stay.
It’s fully possible no one will be held to account for what happened to minority students at FCA and what happened to Mr. Tucker for speaking up about it. Therein lies a potential further injustice in this sad saga. But when it comes to outcomes born of bias at Faith Christian Academy, it’ll just have to get in line.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Matthew 23:23.
Featured Image: reprinted with permission from Levi Ebeling