Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Anti-Obama Teacher Is Placed on Administrative Leave in Alabama

An Alabama teacher who used the assassination of President Obama as an example in a high-school geometry class has been placed on administrative leave.

Gregory Harrison is on paid leave and faces possible termination, Jefferson County School Superintendent Phil Hammonds said. Hammonds originally said Harrison would not be fired and would face no disciplinary action other than a "long conversation."

Hammonds apparently changed his mind after phone calls flooded his office yesterday, coming from as far away as New York, California, and Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, recent history indicates a serious double standard exists regarding alleged political speech in Alabama public schools--and one such case hits very close to home.

Harrison used the example of shooting Obama to help teach his students at Corner High School about angles. A parent complained about Harrison's lesson, and the school system contacted Birmingham's Secret Service Office. Agents questioned Harrison but released him without charges after determining that he was not a credible threat to the president.

Harrison probably would have faced little in the form of discipline, but a public outcry appears to be changing that. Reports The Birmingham News:

Hammonds said the district has suffered great embarrassment by the teacher's "lack of judgment."

"As a district, we are embarrassed by his actions and what he said," Hammonds said. "There is nothing that can be said to rationalize what was said. We take this very seriously. There is no place in our society for a person to make these comments."

Hammonds said he will investigate the matter further, and will talk to students and teachers before recommending to the board what to do with the teacher. Hammonds said termination is a possibility.

Are employees in Alabama public schools treated fairly based on alleged political speech? At least two cases we are familiar with, when compared to the Harrison case, indicate the answer is no.

Steve White, a science teacher at West Limestone High School near Athens, Alabama, was fired in 2006 after showing a film clip to his class in which President George W. Bush, members of his staff, and conservative personalities were referred to as "a--holes."

Parents complained, and White promptly received a written reprimand in his file. National news shows picked up on the story, and parents went to the school board with allegations that White had shown sexually explicit materials in class.

School officials investigated and said they found pornographic material on White's computer, that he was showing videos in class rather than teaching science. White was a Democratic candidate for the Alabama House of Representatives at the time. The Athens News Courier reported:

Allegations against White began when parents complained their children had been shown a video at referring the President Bush and his administration as a-holes numerous times. The clip also used the s-word and showed someone “flipping a bird.”

On April 5, parent Christy Jackson demanded to know what punishment White had received and went to Channel 48 with her concerns. She did not name White during her interview, but The News Courier leaned the following day the teacher was White, a candidate for the district 4 seat on the state House of Representatives.
Carroll announced the following week that White had been punished by Principal Stan Davis in the form of a letter of reprimand in his employment file.

The story was soon picked up by national news shows, including Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and others. Talk radio show hosts discussed the incident for several days and Web site logs, one of which named White “Unhinged Teacher of the Week” were created.

On April 7, parents came to school board members with new allegations against White, saying he had shown sexually explicit materials in class. White was placed on leave that day.

Davis and Carroll confiscated the computer from White’s room April 10.

White lost an appeal in August 2006. An arbitrator found that White's behavior was not immoral, but he had violated the school's Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) for computers.

So let's review: One Alabama teacher uses the assassination of Barack Obama as an instructional tool, and the initial reaction is not to discipline him in any meaningful way. Another Alabama teacher shows a film clip that makes a negative reference to George W. Bush, and he immediately receives a written reprimand, is investigated, and winds up being fired.

In the second example, it should be noted that the teacher himself did not make the negative comments about Bush; they were in a film clip. It also should be noted that this teacher taught science, which one might assume could involve images of the human body. There appear to be significant questions about whether the images on White's computer actually were pornographic. After all, an arbitrator determined his behavior was not immoral. But the teacher, who just happened to be running for public office as a Democrat, got fired.

What about the teacher who directly discussed the assassination of Obama? It appears that he is only being disciplined because of a flood of phone calls from around the country. And it remains to be seen if he will be investigated or terminated.

A double standard in Alabama? We think so.

And we've seen how the double standard is applied in an up-close-and-personal way. More on that coming up.

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