Toby Price, assistant manager, was fired for reading “I need a new ass!” to students

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“It’s a funny, silly book,” Price, 46, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I strongly believe that…if kids see books can be funny and silly, they’ll stick around long enough to see all the other cool things books can be.”

The students “thought it was hilarious,” Price recalled. But the Hinds County school district superintendent near Jackson, Mississippi, did not, and about an hour after the event, Price was placed on administrative leave. Two days later, on March 4, he was fired.

Superintendent Delesicia Martin, who did not respond to the Post’s request for comment, wrote in Price’s termination letter that he “shown a lack of professionalism and impaired judgment” because that “the subjects described in this book were inappropriate”.

Now Price is fighting to overturn the district’s decision. His efforts have garnered overwhelming support, he said, with parents, current and former students and strangers speaking out and donating to a GoFundMe so he can pay a lawyer and continue to support his family.

Price’s dismissal is the latest flashpoint on books in schools, though most disputes have been over those that refer to race and sexual orientation. In November, the American Library Association called the rate at which books are challenged “unprecedented.” In several states where new laws dictate how teachers discuss race in schools, many educators fear losing their jobs for just one misstep.

Price said he fears his situation will set a “frightening precedent” for teachers in his district. He worries that educators are wondering if they need to get approval for every book they read to their students.

“Teachers already have so many other things to worry about when they walk into a building: first, getting fired because of test results; two, will someone come in and shoot the building? Or will I catch covid? The price said.

The events that led to Price’s firing began on March 2, when he hosted a Zoom event for second graders at Byram Elementary School in Mississippi. The rally was to celebrate Reading Day across America, which is Dr. Seuss’ birthday and a day dedicated to encouraging children to read. The plan was to have a special guest read them a book.

When the guest didn’t arrive, Price’s boss asked him to read to the students. Price said sophomores loved the book, which is about a boy who thinks he needs a new ass after noticing he has a big crack.

Fifteen minutes after the event, said Price, the sound director the school called him into his office. According to Price, she told him that he shouldn’t have chosen this book and that the parents might complain. Shortly after the meeting, he said, he was told that the superintendent wanted to see him immediately at the district office.

“They kind of let me have it,” Price said. “She said, ‘Is that the kind of thing you find funny and silly? Fart and butt and bulletproof butts? And I said, ‘Yeah, I did until I got home.’ ”

On March 4, Price was called back to the district office and fired, he said.

Price said he was blindsided by the sudden decision, noting he never had any disciplinary issues. Not only does he enjoy working with children, but he also has a family to support, he said. Two of his three children are autistic.

Since the dismissal, Price said, he was not allowed to return to his office to collect his belongings. And while he wants the district’s decision overturned, he isn’t sure whether to return to work, as he fears scrutiny by senior administrators. He is more concerned about deleting the termination from his record.

Price said he heard no complaints about the book parents and noted that members of the parent-teacher organization had written to offer their support. Former students have also spoken out, including one who wrote a thread on twitter how “amazing” Price was at his job.

“The man loved reading and actively encouraged it,” the former student wrote. “Even lending books from his own office for the children to read.”

Tom Angleberger, the children’s author best known for the “Origami Yoda” and “Rocket and Groot” series, told the Post he’s known Price for years. Angleberger said he admires that Price “never gives up” and dedicated a book to him and his family in recognition of his perseverance.

“Mr. Price is dedicated to connecting with kids, making sure they have a caring adult in their lives, and proving to them that learning and reading doesn’t have to be boring,” Angleberger said.

Price said he doesn’t regret his decision to read “I Need a New Ass!”

“Kids need silly books,” Price said. “The world is too harsh a place.”

As of Friday morning, the book was No. 6 on Amazon’s best-selling children’s book list.

Michael Cavna contributed to this report.

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