undeserved punishments

Michigan High Teacher Suspended For Telling Anti-Gay Student To Shut It

The best thing high school teacher Jay McDowell has going for him? Besides being the complete opposite of Arkansas school district board member Clint McCance, the Facebook hate spewer who attacked “fags” wearing purple on Spirit Day? That McDowell, a teacher at a Michigan high school, has an entire classroom to back up his version of events on Spirit Day, where he reportedly criticized a student who showed up to class attacking the ‘mos.

McDowell, a Howell High School teacher who is also president of the Howell Education Association teachers’ union (which is in the middle of an unrelated email privacy squabble), is accused by a student’s parent of turning Spirit Day into a chance to voice his support of homosexuals.

A student walked into McDowell’s classroom and said, “I do not support gay individuals,” according to David Boeving, a Howell alum whose younger brother attends the school. McDowell, according to Boeving, asked the student to leave the class. The student asked to leave was wearing a belt with a Confederate flag belt buckle, Boeving said, which, he added, McDowell took issue with.

First, let’s not pretend any student has ever uttered the phrase “I do not support gay individuals” verbatim. Me thinks there’s a good chance of a gay slur being used in the place of “gay individuals.” And there must have been some dialogue about Spirit Day, and what it represents, to prompt such a comment. Second, students enjoy their First Amendment rights while at school, unless their behavior inhibits the normal activity of a school — and talking about how you hate an entire class of people, in front of all your peers, is more than enough to cause a disruption. What should McDowell have done, let the student say his piece and then quietly sit in his desk for the period? No, what McDowell did was appropriate: Tell the student to get out of the class for talking crap about gays, some of whom undoubtedly were also in that classroom, to keep the peace.

McDowell, who isn’t commenting publicly, posted to Facebook yesterday that he was on a one-day suspension without pay. But not everybody is letting McDowell’s reputation sink.

At last night’s school board meeting, a former student of McDowell’s spoke in his defense, but was quickly told by board President Debi Drick that matters of a personnel nature couldn’t be discussed. He then spoke only about his experiences as a gay student and how McDowell had been supportive. A parent then spoke to the board and also praised McDowell, although never mentioning the suspension issue. Deputy Superintendent Lynn Parrish had earlier told WHMI that because it was a personnel matter, the district could have no comment.

It’s not a personnel matter when the safety of LGBT students is at risk. Really.

And while privacy laws might keep us from knowing if the student received any punishment, the Howell Public School District’s own Code Of Conduct (PDF) specifically states what can lead to students’ expulsion: hate speech.

[WHMI, Livingston Daily]