US school teacher fired for reading NZ book 'I need a new butt!' to children

A US school teacher has been fired for reading the New Zealand book I need a new butt! to a group of six and seven-year-olds.  

Toby Price, a former assistant principal at Gary Road Elementary School in Mississippi, told AM on Monday a group of second grade - year two - school children were waiting for a different teacher to read to them over Zoom but she "forgot to turn up".

Price quickly stepped in and choose a book to read to the group of about 240 children on 'Read Across America Day'.  

The book, I need a new butt! - but titled in New Zealand I need a new bum! - by Dawn McMillian, who is a prolific author of children's books, is about a boy who sets out to find a new bottom after seeing a "crack" in his buttocks which makes him afraid it is broken.

The children told Price, following the reading, how much they "loved" and "really liked" the book.

US school teacher fired for reading NZ book 'I need a new butt!' to children
Photo credit: Amazon Books

Price said about 10-minutes after the reading, he was called into the principals' office. 

"About 10-minutes after that, the principal called me into her office and said, 'Mr Price we are probably going to get some parent calls about this book' and I understood, a very professional lady, I get it," Price told AM. 

"A few minutes after that I was called to the superintendent's office - there are two superintendents - the main superintendent, she let me have it pretty good for choosing that book. 

"She asked me if that was the kind of thing I thought was funny - butts and farts - and before I walked in there I thought it was."

The superintendent sent Price home on administrative leave, then two days later, on March 4, he was fired.

"Since I choose that book that had words like butt and fart and bulletproof butt in it, I had shown poor professional judgement and she terminated me immediately, I was totally blinded by it."     

Price told AM he had been working in education for 20-years.

He said parents in the area had been "very supportive" of him following the decision. 

"I spoke to members of the PTO (parent-teacher association) and they were very supportive," he said.  "I have had parents of the students reach out to me and the one thing they are upset about the most is I am not there. They have been more than supportive and that feels really good."

The case has gained so much attention that there will be a court hearing towards the end of March about the decision, with the possibility to overturn Price's dismissal. 

But he said, "I would be lying if I said I wasn't kind of afraid to go back, it might not be the happiest work environment".  

When jokingly asked to give his best pitch to school principals in New Zealand who are in desperate need of staff, he said the key to teaching was not taking "yourself too seriously". 

"I think one of the main things about me, I try to tell folks about this all the time, don't take yourself too seriously, but take your job seriously," he told AM.

"I have always tried to do that because kids need to see us having fun at work, they need to see we went to college for all these years and we really enjoyed it. 

"They need to see the silly books, the fun books because if they see those then they will see there are so many more things worth hanging around for besides the funny and silly. You know what, they just need to see us enjoying what we do and connecting with them. 

"Strong relationships always equal stronger learning." 

Since Price lost his job, he hasn't been allowed back into his office to collect his personal items. 

Watch the full interview above.