That comment stunned, hurt and angered White, a popular student at the high school that had 1,708 students last school year. It troubled his mother even more.
Nicholle White of West Des Moines contacted The Des Moines Register, wanting to know why school officials would not disclose how they responded after the educator was said to have used a slur reminiscent of the slave era.
"I have tried to be humble," she said of her dealings with school officials. "But I also feel I need to express as a mother, and as a black woman, how I feel."
After she found out about the exchange in mid-May, White said, she asked school officials to look into it. According to emails she forwarded to the newspaper, Vice Principal Joseph Blazevich investigated and confirmed the comment was made.
Blazevich wrote to White that he thought the incident was "terrible" and "shameful," and added that "the instructor was very remorseful." However, he noted that he could not say what disciplinary action was pursued because district personnel matters are confidential under state law.
District officials don't deny the comment happened, either. Spokesman Phil Roeder said district policy clearly bars any form of discrimination, including comments, by an employee toward a student. "To put it mildly, it was wrong in every way you look at it," he said.
Roeder also confirmed McCurtain is still employed by the district. McCurtain couldn't be reached at his district email, and his phone number was unlisted.
White said she reached out to the school board this month because she fears the matter was handled lightly and believes the remark warranted more than a reprimand in McCurtain's file. She said she thinks the teacher needs to undergo diversity training — or if he's already had some, more.