KOLD INVESTIGATES: Tucson Unified teacher on administrative leave after using N-word in classroom

Science teacher Bruce Riseborough caught on video saying racial and homophobic slurs
A Tucson High teacher is on administrative leave after using the N-word in his classroom.
Published: Dec. 9, 2021 at 7:28 PM MST|Updated: Dec. 9, 2021 at 7:29 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A Tucson High teacher is on administrative leave after using the N-word in his classroom.

Students captured a portion of the discussion on video, which was given to KOLD News 13.

The person who sent the video to us said the footage is recent -- within the past few weeks.

The entire discussion is heard on the video, so we don’t know everything that was said to put everything into context.

Two insiders told us the exchange started when students played hip-hop music during class.

A student recorded a portion of the ensuing conversation between the teacher and students.

In the video, the teacher can be heard defending his use of the N-word.

The video picks up an already heated discussion between Bruce Riseborough, a science teacher, and his students.

The use of the N-word is captured on cam -- once.

“Calling other people N***** is part of his culture and not mine,” Riseborough can be heard asking.

At the start of the recorded conversation, the students are arguing that it’s wrong for Riseborough to use the word.

“You could have said a bad word except for that one,” one student said,

Riseborough then asked if any words are okay, except for that one.

He then utters two disparaging terms (d*** and f**) as examples of other bad words.

Riseborough then tried to justify using the word.

“Hey, I went for the jugular,” he said. “Absolutely right, but as you know my kids are half African American. So why does {student} have the right to say it?”

A student responded, “because that’s part of his culture.”

Riseborough then asked “calling other people n***** is part of his culture and not mine?”

KOLD tried to reach out to Riseborough for comment but did not receive a response as of Thursday, Dec. 9.

We also reached out to Tucson Unified for confirmation that Riseborough is on leave. We asked for an interview to talk about how staff are trained to deal with these types of racially sensitive incidents.

“We can confirm that Mr. Bruce Riseborough is on leave. However, TUSD does not have a practice of commenting on personnel matters or pending investigations, we are unable to grant an interview,” the district said in an email.

So we’ll have to wait for the outcome.

The debate over whether the N-word should be used in a classroom setting is not new.

The controversial topic surfaced again after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery in the winter and spring of 2020, because of the normalization of the word by younger generations.

Tucson Education Association President Margaret Chaney recently taught history -- culturally relevant curriculum -- in TUSD.

“When I was a mentor teacher in the CRC department, we were starting to get into that and we were starting to get questions about the N-word and its appropriateness and so forth. And it just got too ho,” she said.

Chaney believes in academic freedom.

She said she has defended teachers’ use of the N-word in classrooms, but in cases when it’s used within the context of history or a novel that’s being studied to understand why the word is a slur.

“You can have that discussion and you should have that discussion because that’s how kids will learn,” Chaney said, “You know they are, for the most part, used to hearing it in popular culture through entertainment, music and movies.

“That’s unfortunate. That was a mistake. I’m sorry, that was just a mistake. They don’t have a historical background. It is a powerful word. It’s written across the backs of many a person in history. So much blood has been shed.”

There are other schools of thought on the topic.

Dr. Neal Lester taught the first college-level class on the N-word at Arizona State.

“There should be no gray area,” he said. “You should not be reading it out loud. We don’t have to say it. That’s controlling the word and not having the word control you.”

Lester is not saying the word needs to be expunged from text. Like Chaney, he believes people must begin to critically pull back the layers of the N-word to understand its full meaning.

He disagrees with people who believe their association with Black culture justifies using the word.

“We certainly can dispel these myths that somehow if I have a Black partner or a brown partner that I’m somehow excused of, that’s not the case,” he said. “The word is the problem, but this should be part of a larger conversation.”

A discussion, he said, should include the youth who are misinformed about their right to reclaim the word.

“That word has never belonged to us and we are not using it,” he said. “I’ve watched people, Black people, fighting physically and baptizing each other in that word as blood is gushing.

“So please don’t tell me that that’s a word that if you use an “A” it’s somehow cleaner, neater and better smelling. It has a story of what has not changed as the root of that word and the way in which that word is still rooting in disparagement against people who look like me.”

Both Lester and Chaney said school leaders should do more to train teachers on how to deal with the use of the word.

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