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Florida English teacher pushing book bans is openly racist and homophobic, students allege
Vicki Baggett, an English teacher at Northview High School in Florida, is pushing for the Escambia County School District to remove nearly 150 books from school libraries. In an interview last month, Baggett told Popular Information that she is challenging books like When Wilma Rudolph Played Basketball — the story of a sprinter who overcame racial discrimination to become an Olympic champion — because she's concerned the book could make white students "feel uncomfortable." Baggett said she has "a responsibility to protect minors" from this kind of content.
While Baggett claims she is keeping inappropriate content away from children, her former and current students tell Popular Information that Baggett openly promoted racist and homophobic beliefs in class.
Peggy Sunday, who graduated from Northview in 2021, told Popular Information that, during a 10th-grade English class, Baggett said she opposed interracial marriage. "[Baggett] said in the Bible somewhere it says that it is a sin for races to mix together and that whites are meant to be with whites and blacks are meant to be with blacks," Sunday alleged. About 15 students, from a variety of racial backgrounds, were enrolled in the class.
Another student in the same class, Stone Pressley, recalled the same incident. Pressley said that Baggett said she was opposed to "race mixing" because "she wanted to preserve cultures" and "didn't want everyone to turn the same color eventually." Pressley said that although Baggett had a reputation for controversial remarks, he found Baggett's comments on interracial relationships "shocking." After the incident, Pressley recalled asking his science teacher if it was possible, as Baggett claimed, for everyone to be "the same color one day."
Another student in the class, Hamza Jacobs, confirmed Baggett's comments opposing "race mixing." A fourth student in the class, who asked to remain anonymous due to the nature of the allegations and Baggett's standing in a small community, also confirmed the episode.
Sunday said that Baggett is known throughout Northview as an "openly racist teacher." Sunday worked at a local pool and, one day, Baggett asked her about "the black-to-white" ratio. According to Sunday, Baggett then asked two Black students if they "knew how to swim" because "most black people don't know how to swim." The incident was confirmed by one of the Black students targeted by Baggett, who asked to remain anonymous. That student said Baggett "asked me and another girl of color in my class 'could we swim because black people usually can’t.'" Jacobs and Pressley also confirmed the incident.
A Black student in the class also alleged Baggett said that "she didn't understand why black people get tattoos in black ink" because "you can’t even see them." Pressley and Sunday confirmed the incident. Sunday and Jacobs recalled Baggett frequently commenting on the hair of a Black female student. Sunday said Baggett questioned why the young woman wore hair extensions and asked if her hair "was heavy or hurt her."
Popular Information previously reported that, in 2015, Baggett posted an image of the Confederate Flag to her Facebook page. In the December 2022 interview, Baggett defended the posting, because "everyone in my clan fought in the Civil War" and she was not "ashamed of that." Baggett added that she was a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy, which has been designated as part of the Neo-Confederate movement.
The Escambia County School District did not answer a detailed list of questions about Baggett's behavior but did provide the following statement to Popular Information: "We categorically condemn any form of discriminatory speech. Our mission is to reach all students, regardless of race, background, or gender identity."
Baggett did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the allegations made by her students. She has, however, continued to submit challenges to books in Escambia County school libraries. Most recently, Baggett challenged a bestselling book of poetry available in high school libraries, The Sun and Her Flowers, on January 5.
Baggett accuses a student of "faking being a lesbian"
Both Sunday and Pressley recalled another incident involving Baggett that "the whole school talked about." According to Sunday, Baggett told a 10th-grade student that her sister, who had a girlfriend, was "faking being a lesbian for attention." Baggett allegedly said that "nobody's born that way."
The incident was confirmed by a student, who asked to remain anonymous, who witnessed Baggett's comments. Popular Information also confirmed the identity of the targeted student and her sister but is not publishing their identities due to the nature of the allegations.
In September 2019, a Northview parent emailed principal Michael Sherrill objecting strenuously to Baggett's classroom conduct. (The email was obtained by Popular Information on the condition that the identity of the parent not be disclosed.) In the letter, the parent accused Baggett of "a toxic and hostile learning environment for her students" and asked that "a full investigation of her actions be conducted."
The letter states that Baggett "has expressed her utter distaste for homosexuals to her students." According to the parent, Baggett "stated she thinks homosexuals are DUMB/STUPID for wearing the rainbow and pink colors because, according to Mrs. Baggett, that is the way that Hitler marked homosexual males during the Holocaust." (The pink triangle was used by Nazis but has been reclaimed by the LGBTQ community as a symbol of pride.) The parent expressed concern that these comments would make students in her class feel "judged" and "humiliated."
Many of the books challenged by Baggett have LGBTQ themes. Among the books challenged by Baggett is And Tango Makes Three. The book is the story of two male penguins, Roy and Silo. The pair build a nest together and raise an adopted child, Tango. Baggett alleges the book promotes the "LGBTQ agenda using penguins." On the form, Baggett said she believes the purpose of the book is "indoctrination."
In the December 2022 interview with Popular Information, Baggett said And Tango Makes Three includes sexual "innuendo" and K-3 students are "too young to even be concerned about sex." Baggett explained that she objected to the book because if a second grader read the book "that idea would pop into the second grader's mind… that these are two people of the same sex that love each other." Baggett's challenge says the book is inappropriate for all grade levels.
The September 2019 parent letter also claims that Baggett "openly stated that men and women should 'Know Their Role.'" Baggett allegedly said that "men are the protectors and the women are the nurturers" and that is why "women have the children and the men go to work to provide and protect the women."
The parent demanded their child "be removed from Mrs. Baggett’s classroom effective immediately." But the parent told Popular Information that no action was taken in response to their complaint. The school did not address the specific allegations in the letter, and Principal Sherrill told the parent that Baggett was "a good person."
A former student in Baggett's class told Popular Information that, despite her "wild" conduct in class, "a lot of people were scared" to complain to administrators about Baggett. Northview is a small high school, with about 90 people in each graduating class, and Baggett has taught English at Northview for more than 30 years.
Inside Baggett's classroom today
Baggett is seeking to remove books like When Wilma Rudolph Played Basketball from Escambia County libraries, claiming texts that detail historic discrimination amount to "race-baiting." The form Baggett submitted to the school district says When Wilma Rudolph Played Basketball "opines prejudice based on race" and is inappropriate for students in any grade.
But a current student in Baggett's 12th grade English class told Popular Information that Baggett's curriculum includes texts that cover racial issues in crude terms. Popular Information is withholding the name of the student because the student is a minor and is currently enrolled in Baggett's class.
Among the texts covered in Baggett's 12th grade English class this academic year was A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor, an acclaimed but controversial author. (See "How Racist Was Flannery O'Connor?" in the New Yorker.) In A Good Man Is Hard to Find, a man named Edgar Atkins Teagarden courts a woman by leaving a watermelon at her doorstep every Saturday carved with his initials — E.A.T. The punchline is that a Black child, referred to in the story with the n-word, ate the watermelon because he interpreted Teagarden's initials as an invitation.
According to the student, Baggett played an audio version of the story that included the unredacted racial slur. During the classroom discussion, Baggett also allegedly spelled out the n-word, which the student said made many of her classmates uncomfortable. Another student in the class posted a screenshot of the of the passage from A Good Man Is Hard to Find with the n-word to social media, commenting that it was a "regular day in Ms. Baggett's class."
Baggett previously told Popular Information that her 12th grade class included texts with the n-word. But Baggett claimed that when the text was read in the classroom, she "basically skipped over" the part of the book that included the slur because it was her job to make "students all feel comfortable." (During the December 2022 interview, Baggett herself used the racial slur in full oin describing the incident.) Baggett declined to name the text, so it's unclear if it was A Good Man Is Hard to Find or another story.
There is nothing particularly unusual about including a Flannery O'Connor story in a 12th grade English class. But it highlights a troubling contradiction in Baggett's approach. Baggett maintains that A Good Man Is Hard to Find is appropriate for high school students but books like When Wilma Rudolph Played Basketball and And Tango Makes Three are inappropriate and should be removed from all school libraries.