DENISON, Iowa (KCAU) – The teacher at the center of a tense school board meeting and a walkout by students at Denison High School is speaking out exclusively to KCAU 9 news about what happened inside her classroom last week.

Crystal Holt, a suspended teacher at Denison High School at the center of the controversy, said she did use the N-word during her government class last Thursday, but as Holt said, what’s happened since then is a misunderstanding.

“It has been very stressful. My younger children have struggled, and it’s just something hard to bring them into when I’m just trying to do my job and help others to deal with the bigger issue of racism,” said Holt.

Holt has been teaching in the Denison Community School District for 23 years. She says a student’s question during her lesson on capital punishment and the death penalty sparked all of the controversies last Thursday.

“During that discussion, I was asking them, ‘Well, what do you mean by hate crimes? Why did you put it on your board?’ One of the students said, ‘Because in the reading, it says that he used pejorative terms.’ And another student said, ‘What does pejorative mean?’ I explained what pejorative was that it is derogatory. [The student asked] ‘What’s derogatory mean?’ I continued to try to explain that and in that conversation, I used the N-word,” said Holt.

She says rumors spread fast in the halls of Denison High School among students who were upset over her use of the word in class. The word came up again when Holt tried to explain the situation with the dean of students on Friday.

“So I went to another teacher’s class, and I explained to them why I used the word, how I was trying to teach within the context of this case to deal with racism,” said Holt.

Over the weekend, Holt received a phone call from the district informing her she is now on administrative leave. But Holt is standing by the lesson she has taught in her classroom for the past 17 years.

“A teacher trying to teach and has to use that word in order to instruct and help get rid of racism in any kind of educational setting that wouldn’t require an apology because you are trying to instruct and there is no insult or intent to insult in that situation,” said Holt.

While Holt believes she hasn’t done anything wrong, she says waiting to see the results of the district’s internal investigation remains a challenge.

“It’s been hard. It’s been hard on my family. It’s been hard on my children. It’s been hard on our community. It’s caused division. It caused disruption in our educational system, and we would never want that to happen. It’s horrible for everyone involved,” said Holt.

Dozens of parents and community members spoke about this issue at Tuesday night’s school board meeting. The school district is continuing its internal investigation. Until then, Holt will stay on administrative leave.