A Lake Highlands High School teacher has been placed on administrative leave while Richardson ISD officials investigate her use of racial slurs at school. The discussion was secretly recorded by a student and shared with school administrators.

RISD did not release the name of the teacher or the student, but sophomore Dylan Barber said he was the student who recorded English teacher Nikki Ticzon using slurs against Blacks and Hispanics. A portion of the recording was released by NBC 5.

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“I’m going to show you that you can call me a N****r all you want,” the teacher is heard saying.

Barber explained that the teacher was not calling students names, but instead seemed to be attempting to convey the message that students can overcome racism in educational and social settings. Still, he was angry.

“She used the N-word and a racial slur for Hispanics,” Barber told me. “She said, ‘I love talking to people about racism. Racism is a good topic to bring up.’ She said, ‘Black girls love to run their mouths.’ She was trying to teach me a lesson. She said I need to learn to take the high road if someone is being racist. But it wasn’t her place.”

Barber and dozens of other LHHS students walked out of class Friday to protest what they claim are racial inequities on campus. They particularly point to differences in the way white kids are disciplined compared to Black, Hispanic, female and LGBTQ students.

“Ball caps are permitted in class, but do-rags are prohibited,” Barber said. “The fact that (school officials) think a do-rag is gang affiliated shows just how little they know about our culture. They need to be willing to learn.”

Appa Cowart-Stoker, another protest organizer, said dress codes are strictly enforced when students of color are involved. White students, he said, get a pass.

“They make a big deal if a POC (person of color) has a bare shoulder or bare midriff or short skirt, but the rules aren’t the same for the (mostly white) cheer squad. We want to be heard, and we want change.”

Students shared their plans to protest with principal Kerri Jones, who assigned them 40 minutes and a space behind the school. Dissatisfied, they marched throughout the day along Church Road in front of the school.

“They wanted us out back where nobody could see us or hear us, where nobody would even care,” said Javiana Eddy. “We didn’t want anything violent. We just wanted to get our point across.”

Eddy said racist comments by students are tolerated at LHHS, and use of the N-word has become commonplace.

“These are kids we went to elementary school with, people we’ve known our whole lives,” said Eddy. “When we studied slavery, they would laugh about it. They found it funny.”

During Homecoming Week’s “spirit” days, many of the school’s non-white students balked at themes chosen by the mostly white student council. On “western” day, they instead celebrated the 90s with a rock or grunge theme. Lollar McClain, who is white, wore similar garb as her Black friends without incident. Her Black friends were disciplined for dressing as “thugs” and “gang-bangers,” she said.

“It’s important for people to be treated equally,” she said. “Nobody is less than anybody else. The fact that our school is treating people of color less than white people is inappropriate and disgusting.”

Grayson Wallace credits administrators for creating diversity and equity committees for LHHS and RISD but believes more voices should be heard.

“The current equity ambassadors joined by invitation only,” he said. “More students need to be included.”

Wallace admits some students have been concerned about speaking up, because they fear complaints could affect college recommendations and entrance into honor societies.

“Even with this protest today I was terrified about walking out. But this isn’t a bunch of students skipping school. We’re not a hate group. We’re not going to hurt anybody. We’re trying to show people that it’s okay to stand up for what you believe in, and it’s not okay to be tolerant of racial injustice. It’s okay to take a stand against a system that’s unhelpful to you and oppresses you.”

The Wildcat football team met Friday morning before the protest and decided as a team not to participate. Instead, Jeremiah Richards read a statement to fellow students at the pep rally.

“Everyone here has a voice, and your voice should be heard. We stand with y’all, but I feel that our voice isn’t heard enough on the topic. When I signed up to be an LH football player, I signed up to be part of a family. That means coaches, players, trainers – we’re all a family here. If you look around, you see all the diversity we have here – the different coaches, backgrounds and beliefs. When we all come around, we’re all brothers and sisters. We all agreed that if a couple of us protested, it would divide us and kill everything we’ve worked for this entire season. So don’t think for one second that what took place isn’t wrong, because it is. I think we focus too much on the negative and forget about the positive sometimes. It’s easy for us to say that LH is a racist school with racist teachers, which it is not. We have hard-working teachers here, who have put in so many hours and taken off time with their families to be with us and help us get the education we need to be successful in life. This is just an example I have: Lonnie Jordan, head coach here at Lake Highlands, knew that some guys on the team don’t have a father figure in their life, and he helped teach us how to change a car tire. Or Blake Hughes who helped me tie my first tie. Or Mr. Helms, an English teacher here, saw me in a tuxedo during class with a pair of Jordan shoes on, who offered me a pair of dress shoes after class so I wouldn’t feel embarrassed. The little things matter.

“With that being said, I hope that everyone who is protesting is protesting to take a stand, and not just out there because of their friends. We pray that y’all stay safe and have a peaceful protest.”

Friday afternoon, Jones emailed a message to parents.

“RISD received a video recording today that includes audio of a person using racial slurs. The identity of the speaker is not clear from the recording, but RISD’s preliminary investigation confirmed that the speaker is a LHHS teacher. RISD has placed the teacher on administrative leave today while it investigates the situation.

“The use of a racial slur in any education setting is offensive and inappropriate, regardless of the context. LHHS and RISD staff are working to keep all students safe and also engaging the student demonstrators to discuss productive next steps.”