Toby Price

Toby Price, an assistant principal in the Hinds County (MS) School District, was fired on March 4 after reading a book to a group of 2nd graders over Zoom. On Tuesday, March 2, Mr. Price read the book I Need a New Butt, by Dawn McMillan. Two days later, he was told his actions violated the statewide educators’ ethics code and was terminated.

PEN America has sent a letter to the district, calling for his reinstatement. We asked Mr. Price to respond to five questions posed over email:

PEN America: The school district cited the MS state teachers “ethics code” in firing you. Do you feel there’s more to your termination than this explanation?

Toby Price: There must be but I have no idea what it could be. 

PA: Has this book been used before in school? Did you have reason to believe it might be offensive or questionable for the age group that it was read to?

TP: I’ve read this to students at my previous school. I never had a complaint. It’s a fun silly book. I firmly believe reluctant readers need to be allowed to see that books can be fun and silly. Once they see books can be fun, they’ll stick around to discover all the other wonderful things books can be.

PA: In the past, were you ever aware of teachers or administrators having to submit books for pre-approval to read to children? Or were educators allowed to use their own judgment?

TP: I’ve heard in other states about having to submit books for pre-approval but not here and not at Gary Road. (elementary school, where he was assistant principal)

PA: What was your immediate reaction when you were told you were fired simply for reading a book?

TP: I was stunned, sad, and visibly upset. I have a wife and special needs kids at home that I take care of. 

PA: We know you plan to fight your termination after 20 years of teaching and as an assistant principal. Have you always wanted to be an educator? Can you imagine doing anything else?

TP: I always wanted to be an educator. My whole family worked in restaurants growing up. I did too. I walked something different for my kids. Being an educator is as close as you can get to being a super hero without the funny costume. If I had to choose another career, I would love to keep writing. I’ve written a kids book about my family and autism. Yes, there is a fart joke in it.  I need to find a publisher. I love writing, drawing and telling stories. I am good with technology, speaking, voice overs and other things. However, I love being an educator. It’s not just what I do, it’s who I am.