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Edison board hears many voices about leader’s racially insensitive language

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The large majority of the speakers at the Edison School for the Arts’ school board meeting on Tuesday spoke out against the school’s executive director.

Speakers alleged a pattern of negative behavior after students reported Nathan Tuttle used racially insensitive language. News 8 previously reported Tuttle was placed on administrative leave.

Ernest Disney-Britton, one of the board members, described a meeting with the five students, two moms, additional staff and Tuttle himself. The meeting happened after an incident. Disney-Britton said a student was the first to use a racially insensitive word, and Tuttle reprimanded the student.

Disney-Britton said, “He (the student) asked Mr. Tuttle to tell him what they said wrong. I heard the boys agree that Mr. Tuttle did not call them a racial slur, but did repeat the word and shouldn’t have. Mr. Tuttle acknowledged it, and I witnessed Mr. Tuttle apologize.”

Makisha Smith is the parent of one of the involved eighth-grade boys. She came to the school after the incident and attended the meeting with the boys, another mom, Tuttle and Disney-Britton. She says Tuttle did not call the children the racially insensitive word, but repeated it in front of them.

“To have your child call you screaming to get to the school because an administrator used the (word) repeatedly is downright upsetting, to say the least,” Smith said.

Multiple members of faculty and staff plus students spoke at the school board meeting and alleged Tuttle created a toxic environment for the facility at 777 White River Pkwy West Drive, just west of the river off Kentucky Avenue on the near-southwest side.

Indiana Department of Education data shows the facility in the 2020-2021 school year had 588 students in kindergarten through Grade 8. The state data shows more than 87% of the students were Black/African-American, Hispanic, or multiracial.

One staff member claimed to be a witness to the racially insensitive language, and, at the board meeting, corroborated the students’ account. Regina Cole, an instructional assistant at Edison, said, “They were laughing and playing, and all of a sudden one of the boys did use the (racially insensitive word), and moments later I heard Mr. Tuttle correct the student.

“He also used the (racially insensitive word) and he used it quite a few times.”

Kathy Gaalema, a teacher of second grade, said she will likely not return to the school after 38 years of teaching due to the toxic, micromanaged work environment. “I’m in a toxic work environment. We have lost 18 staff members. Not all of them are our teachers, but most of them are. It is very toxic. We are afraid to approach Mr. Tuttle.”

Many that spoke called for Tuttle to resign or be removed.

The board planned to hear from the public at the meeting but take no immediate action while an investigation continues.

People can submit written comments by Thursday to Vionta Jones, Edison’s director of operations, at