A New Orleans school principal was fired Thursday after online video and a podcast surfaced in which he spoke in support of the city’s Confederate monuments and was seen wearing symbols often associated with white supremacy.
The head of the state-run Recovery School District released a statement Thursday afternoon saying the principal, Nicholas Dean, would not be allowed back at Crescent Leadership Academy, an independent charter school that serves students who have been expelled elsewhere.
"The children of New Orleans should be able to trust that educators value their humanity, respect them as individuals, and will treat them with a sense of fairness and equality," RSD Superintendent Kunjan Narechania said.
"Educators are role models, and they should prioritize this sacred role above all else. Any educator who is unwilling to prioritize and respect the humanity of all children has no place in schools."
Dean had been suspended from his post earlier in the week after a photo circulated showing him in the vicinity of a Confederate flag near the Robert E. Lee monument hours before it was removed May 19.
At that point, Dean insisted in an interview that he was at Lee Circle only to witness the event, not to protest, saying he wanted to “see history in the making.”
He said the photo was taken “out of context.”
The principal of an alternative school in New Orleans was asked to leave his post this week …
Later, however, a video surfaced showing that he had been interviewed earlier this month adorned with symbols often associated with white supremacy and the Nazis.
Narechania said she had spoken with the nonprofit board that governs Crescent Leadership Academy, which made the decision to remove Dean.
"While the circumstances surrounding this decision are regrettable and damaging, I appreciate the board making a swift decision so that the school can move forward and so that our community can continue to heal," she said.
The charter management operator and board chairman for Crescent Leadership Academy, Warren J. Atkins Jr., confirmed the news in a statement. Atkins said the school “will continue to work in the best interest of all students.”
The video in question was posted to YouTube and Facebook by a photographer named Abdul Aziz, who said Dean was interviewed ahead of what he called the "Battle of New Orleans" on May 7, a reference to dueling protests that ended at the Lee monument.
Dean was wearing rings depicting the Iron Cross, a German military decoration, and a skull. He wore a baseball helmet, carried an American flag and brandished a wooden board emblazoned with a symbol of ancient Sparta and the words “come” and “take.”
The latter is an apparent reference to a remark supposedly made by the Spartan king Leonidas before the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., when he told the Persians that if they wanted the Spartans’ weapons they could “come and take them.”
Mark Pitcavage, of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said Spartan symbols are often used by right-wing extremists, though he added that the video alone in this case was not enough to conclude Dean has white supremacist or Nazi leanings.
He expressed some doubts that Dean’s skull ring was actually a reference to the so-called Totenkopf, an old German symbol made up of a skull and crossbones that was often used by the Nazis. And he said the Iron Cross is not necessarily used as a hate symbol.
In the podcast interview, conducted two weeks prior to when the video was shot, Dean went under the name Nick Andrews. He spoke with the host of "Guerrilla Radio: the official podcast of The Revolutionary Conservative.”
A few minutes into the interview, Dean mentioned that he worked “as a mentor” and “a leader” for a charter school that educates mostly African-American students.
The podcast host then asked, “So it’s probably fair to say then, that you’re not a white supremacist or, you know, some crazy KKK member from the Confederate past?”
Dean answered ambivalently, saying “not by my definition, absolutely not — but by others, most certainly."
During the nearly half-hour interview, Dean called the decision to take down the monuments "a movement to erase history,” and he referred to Take 'Em Down NOLA, a group that supported removing the statues, as a "revisionist movement."
"It’s a replacement movement,” Dean said. “It’s a black supremacy movement. It’s a black nationalist movement."
Dean matter-of-factly referred to the monuments in question as “symbols of white supremacy,” but he added that removing them would not solve the city’s problems, such as crime. “There’s a civil war going on in this city,” Dean said, apparently referring to gun violence. “A heavy black-on-black war.”
Reached by phone Thursday and asked about the newly surfaced video and podcast, Dean said he had no comment.
Legal experts said the charter organization that employed Dean was probably justified in dismissing him, despite potential First Amendment concerns.
Tulane University law professor Joel Friedman said free-speech rights don't necessarily protect workers from the actions of employers in the private sector.
While there’s been debate over the public or private nature of charter schools, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation notes that if an employee is hired by a management company, the person is likely a private-sector employee.
Keith Werhan, another law school professor at Tulane, said that while an employee can’t be penalized because a public entity “disagrees” with the “content” of his or her speech, the state also has a “greater interest” in restricting educators’ speech than with “ordinary citizens.”
“It seems fair to say that the state has a legitimate interest in deciding that a public school principal who publicly espouses white supremacy would have great difficulty in leading and managing his school,” Werhan said.
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