Kansas' Top Education Official Under Fire for Alleged Racist Remark

A top Kansas education official is under fire after allegedly using a racist remark at a state education conference.

Dr. Randy Watson, the state's education commissioner, is facing calls to resign after multiple anonymous sources told local news station WIBW of the allegations. A public Facebook post detailed the alleged remark.

"When I was a kid, my cousins used to worry about visiting Kansas and getting killed by a tornado," said Watson, according to an anonymous conference attendee. "I said, well, if we are being honest, you have a higher chance of coming to Kansas and getting killed by an Indian."

Many educators and activists are outraged.

"I was sad for my tribal people, but I was also sad because I lost respect for Dr. Watson," education coordinator Nis Wilbur, who is Indigenous, told WIBW. "When a man with the influence of Dr. Watson says comments of that nature to educators all across the state, that becomes the standard of how educators can treat Native American children."

She continued discussing the issue with the news station, saying that the Board of Education needs to take action.

"KSDE [Kansas State Department of Education] has a responsibility to Kansas kids and Kansas educators, and that responsibility transcends their responsibility to Dr. Watson," Wilbur said. "KSDE needs to send a very clear and powerful message with this, that racism in the classroom or in any education setting will not be tolerated."

Some board members said that Watson has begun apologizing for the comment as a hearing is set for February 25.

"He recognizes that it was something that shouldn't have been said. In my view, he's taken the responsible position," board chair Jim Porter said. "But that being said, since it has come to the attention of the board of education, it's our responsibility to address it."

Others have praised Watson, saying that the remark he's accused of making is "uncharacteristic" for him.

"I'm anxious to find out the details [on what Watson said]," board member Jim McNiece told the Kansas Reflector. "I have great confidence that Randy Watson has made equity and respect key building blocks during his time as commissioner. He has always been a strong advocate for the underserved and for all kids."

The board and Watson will meet in an executive session on February 25 to discuss the accusations in full, as well as determine if he will receive any disciplinary action.

Update 2/24/22, 12:18 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with comment from Jim McNiece.

Kansas High School
Eureka Junior/Senior High School. Kansas' top education official, who oversees schools such as Eureka Junior/Senior High School, is under fire for allegedly making a racist remark at a recent conference. Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images