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caption: A still from a surveillance video of a Meany Middle School student being thrown out of class. Moments before, the student's teacher, James Johnson, punched him in the jaw.
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A still from a surveillance video of a Meany Middle School student being thrown out of class. Moments before, the student's teacher, James Johnson, punched him in the jaw.
Credit: Meany Middle School video surveillance via public records

AUDIO: A Seattle teacher threatens his students

In an audio recording provided to KUOW, former Meany Middle School math teacher James Johnson told his algebra class he had just punched a student in the face.

James Johnson was a middle school math teacher at Meany Middle School two years ago when he punched a boy in the jaw.

One class period later, another student recorded him admitting to assaulting the boy. The student who recorded it was trying to capture evidence of the teacher saying inappropriate things to students.

“I’m sorry, I had a rough morning,” Johnson says to the class, after discussing what math curriculum would be covered on the quiz. “I had to punch a student in the face.”

[Read the KUOW investigation into teacher abuse at Seattle Public Schools.]

The students sound shocked. “Really?” they say. “Actually?”

Johnson says yes. Another student asks Johnson what the student had done.

“Well, if you put your hands on me, I’ll kill you,” Johnson says. “If you touch me because you think you’re a 14-year-old, like you’re a big, bad student … I’m an adult, I’m like your parent. If you put your hands on me, they’re going to have to surgically remove my foot from your posterior.”

He continues: “Under no circumstances ever are you going to put your hands on me. And under no circumstances ever are you going to call me a derogatory name like a n-----.”

The student Johnson had punched that day had called him the n-word. Johnson called him the n-word back, students said. Both Johnson and the student are Black.

Johnson received a five-day suspension for punching the boy from then-Superintendent Larry Nyland, even though human resources had first recommended termination.

A separate investigation then found he had also sexually harassed middle school students. But district investigators determined that they could not prove that he threatened students with physical violence: specifically, that he had warned students that "if you mess with me, you will have to have my foot removed from your ass."

At Washington Middle School, where he was working this school year, parents and students said that Johnson harassed, insulted and physically abused students, especially students of color.

Johnson was placed on leave in late January, the day after a KUOW investigation into systemic teacher abuse at Seattle Public Schools. The district said new allegations had been made against him: aggressive behavior toward students, failure to respect student boundaries, and evidence that he lied about prior discipline on his job application.

Parents and students gathered at a community forum on Thursday night at Garfield High School to share their stories and concerns about student safety in the district in the wake of the KUOW investigation that highlighted three teachers who were allowed to remain in the classroom after harming students. One of those teachers was in Kent.