Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Jerome Pecko invites Brian Wilson to visit classrooms after he apologizes.
The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
Toledo Federation of Teachers President Francine Lawrence said the district needs to file an appeal with the Federal Communications Commission to rescind the license of WSPD, which is a Clear Channel Communications' affiliate. Superintendent Jerome Pecko said he planned to write a letter to the agency this week asking it to review Mr. Wilson's comments.
"He did a grave disservice to this school district," Mr. Pecko said. "For a person with the capacity that he has to communicate as thoroughly as he does in this community to the people in this community who do listen to him on his station with Clear Channel, it was very unprofessional of him."
On Friday, Mr. Wilson, the host of WSPD's Brian Wilson and the Afternoon Drive, said the school system doesn't teach kids to think as individuals or entrepreneurially and made a reference to "little monkeys" while talking about TPS students that some took as a blatant racial slur.
"But certainly, teaching little monkeys to peel bananas and so on and them learning to do it correctly on cue does not mean that they've learned everything except a funny parlor trick," Mr. Wilson said.
Some 75 people who gathered on Sunday at the TPS board office for a news conference were outraged and insulted.
"Not only are his words racist, whether he intended them to be or not, but they are degrading and demoralizing," said Christine Varwig, a board member and past president of the Toledo Parent Congress, which convened the news conference. "Mr. Wilson, my child is no trained monkey, sir. My daughter has a mind of her own, is an honor-roll student involved in school activities and clubs and outside activities. [She] volunteers and has a part time job and is college-bound. I would say she is a productive member of society with a bright future ahead, and she is but one of the students that is receiving a great education in Toledo Public Schools."
Also, John Jones, president of the Greater Toledo Urban League, issued a statement describing Mr. Wilson's words as "highly offensive to any and all solid-thinking people in this community."
Mr. Jones said he tried to listen to the entire show on WSPD's Web site to understand the context of the remarks but said part of Mr. Wilson's Friday broadcast wasn't available. The only podcast on Mr. Wilson's Web site is an interview with Walter Williams, a noted conservative African-American economist.
Mr. Jones called on Mr. Wilson to apologize and said WSPD and Clear Channel should discipline Mr. Wilson in accordance with a "zero tolerance" policy against racially biased language the station instituted in 2000 after two incidents of talk-show jocks making on-air comments considered racially offensive.
While agreeing that "our public school district has many areas in need of major improvement and change," Mr. Jones said, "we will not, however, tolerate our students being the base of ridicule or becoming points of conjecture based upon racial stereotypes, whether perceived or real."
Mr. Wilson, who lives in Virginia, could not be reached for comment. Reached by phone after the news conference, Andy Stuart, vice president and general manager of the station, said, "We're not prepared to make any comment right now."
‘Crossed the line'
On Friday, Mr. Wilson said he did not have any racist intent, nor was he referring to African-American students, and he said his critics were attacking him because they had run out of intellectual ammunition.
TPS Board President Bob Vasquez said Mr. Wilson had crossed the line.
"I've listened to that radio station discuss and talk about the board members and that's fine. This time, I think it's gone too far. He's crossed the line. By that I mean he is now saying negative and offensive things about our students, and our students to me are one of the most vulnerable categories in our community, and that bothers me very much," Mr. Vasquez said. "He also has been saying things that are critical of our teachers, and our teachers have dedicated their lives to helping this wonderful population, and I think it needs to stop."
Board member Brenda Hill, a retired teacher, suggested Mr. Wilson has not set foot in a classroom for decades. She said she understands what Mr. Wilson said about memorizing facts, which students do even in college and medical school and law school, but she disagrees that that is all that goes on in the schools.
"Yes, there is rote learning, but after they learn that, then they can work with understanding, make hypotheses, draw conclusions, have creative things going on, and that higher level of learning is what we are doing in Toledo Public Schools," Ms. Hill said. "First you have to learn the basics, and then you can go on to higher levels of learning."
Mr. Pecko, who did not hear the broadcast, said that once Mr. Wilson delivers a sincere apology to the school district and the city, he would be happy to take him and any other Clear Channel representatives to visit TPS classrooms to see what kind of learning is going on first-hand.
"We'll make cold calls. We're not going to schedule these," he said. "We'll make cold calls into classrooms, and he can see for himself what I see when I have the ability to go out and do that."
The superintendent said he dropped in last week on a Rogers High science class, where students were working on a DNA mapping exercise. In an English class down the hall, students were comparing and contrasting a topic presented to them in class.
"His comments were not only inappropriate and very disturbing, they were very primitive in terms of what his thinking is about what goes on in our schools," Mr. Pecko said.
Ms. Lawrence, who was among TPS union officials at the news conference, said WSPD has demonstrated "a history and pattern of race baiting" and deserves to lose its broadcasting license. She didn't mince words about Mr. Wilson.
"Thank goodness our Toledo Public School students receive an education that ensures they won't grow up to be ignorant like Brian Wilson," she said.
Parents urged to act
Ms. Varwig asked that TPS parents as well as parents from the surrounding area "let Clear Channel know it's not OK to allow their radio personality to speak so callously of our children, our teachers, and our school."
"Clear Channel," she said. "We are watching to see what move you will make next."
Denny Schaffer, a former Toledo radio talk-show host who was contacted by The Blade Sunday night, said he would have to hear more of Mr. Wilson's show Friday to comment on whether his words crossed a line.
"I can't get into his head. From what I know about Brian Wilson, he's not a racist. I've had a number of conversations with him. I've spent time with him at conferences. I just don't think he's a racist," said Mr. Schaffer, who is host of a nighttime radio talk show on WGKA-AM, 920, in Atlanta, which is owned by a different broadcast company than WSPD.
He said people who talk on the air are encouraged to "entertain, inform, and get ratings within the parameters," and show hosts took annual training on what was allowed.
Mr. Schaffer came under fire and had to apologize in 1999 when he said he wanted to go to a Denny's restaurant with WilliAnn Moore, who was then the president of the local NAACP to see if either one of them would be served.
The national chain had settled a class-action racial-discrimination lawsuit.
He said WSPD did not encourage its hosts to test the boundaries of racial sensitivity but he is not familiar with the company's policies today.
"We learned our lesson. I got burned, in the '90s, and learned my lesson. Won't go there," he said.
Staff Writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6129.