Federal Way teacher files lawsuit over 'N-word'

by: David Ham Updated:


TAF Academy humanities teacher Tenesha Fremstad filed a lawsuit against Federal Way Public Schools over a poem she said she was told to read entitled "Ni**erlips."

The poem, by Latino Poet Martin Espada, reads:

"N**erlips was the high school name
for me.
So called by Douglas
the car mechanic, with green tattoos
on each forearm,
and the choir of round pink faces
that grinned deliciously 
from the back row of classrooms,
droned over by teachers
checking attendance too slowly.

Douglas would brag
about cruising his car 
near sidewalks of black children
to point an unloaded gun,
to scare ni**ers
like crows off a tree,
he'd say.

My great-grandfather Luis
was un ne*rito too,
a shoemaker in the coffee hills
of Puerto Rico, 1900.
The family called him a secret
and kept no photograph.
My father remembers
the childhood white powder
that failed to bleach
his stubborn copper skin,
and the family says
he is still a fly in milk."

 "It was a totally breathtaking a heart skipping a beat moment like you really expect me to read this poem and discuss it?" Fremstad added, "Considering I am the only African-American teacher at TAF Academy. That’s just not appropriate that's just not appropriate."

She said the poem was a part of a development day for teachers on May 6, 2013.

Teachers reviewed poems in pairs and Fremstad she was asked to read the poem. 

Fremstad refused.

"I was asked about how i felt about literature such as Huckleberry Finn being a humanities teacher i was asked why i wouldn't read the poem.  They even suggested i stepped out the room and come back I really felt it was really inappropriate," said Fremstad.

Fremstad filed a lawsuit on May 9 at King County Superior Court. She's asking for damages for racial discrimination, hostile work environment, disparate treatment and unlawful retaliation.

Fremstad said after she refused to read the poem, she was treated differently.

"I have also lost being the humanities department chair i am no longer a part of the building leadership team. i have been called named that are not appropriate to be called by your supervisors or superior," Fremstad added. "I've kind of just lost everything that I worked so hard to build for the students and the school."

Federal Way Public Schools said no one would go on camera for this case.

FWPS provided a statement on the case that said:

"Federal Way Public Schools prohibits any statements and actions which discriminate on the basis of race. All complaints of harassment and discrimination are investigated thoroughly, and prompt disciplinary action is taken on any allegations that can be substantiated.

FWPS has multiple levels of review and appeal for complaints which cannot be substantiated. FWPS has taken an continues to take significant steps to promote cultural competency and tolerance amongst our professional staff.

FWPS has retained legal counsel will respond to all allegations in the complaint through the legal process."

"For me my heart it hurts it hurts that it's okay in this day and age to be told to read something that is totally and completely inappropriate and I’m supposed to stand by it and if I don’t support it I’m the bad guy," said Fremstad.

"It is plain offensive for a school district in this day and age to engage such racially insensitive conduct.  It was also harmful to Ms. Fremstad when the District retaliated against her after she complained of this racial conduct.  Hopefully the Federal Way School District will change its approach to these sensitive racial matters as a result of this suit," said Thaddeus Martin attorney for Fremstad.

We reached out to the Federal Way Education Association for comment on the situation.  No one returned our calls.

We've requested to see all of the district's investigations on Fremstad's complaints.