classroom clash

SHOCK: Howell High School Says It Was Teacher Jay McDowell Who Started The Fight With Students

In the never-ending saga of Michigan high school teacher Jay McDowell — who removed a student from the classroom he claims was voicing anti-gay views — we learn that despite 14-year-old Graeme Taylor’s best efforts, the one-day-without-pay suspension stands, because McDowell violated the student’s First Amendment rights, and because he went crazy.

Two students kicked out of class claim economics teacher McDowell called them “racist” and launched into a furor, slamming doors and screaming while discussing their discipline in front of other students, relays the Livingston Daily Press. It was McDowell who instigated the entire situation, the school district claims in a report released yesterday, for asking Dan Glowacki — a 16-year-old student at Howell High School who raised objections to McDowell supporting purple tee-wearing students (he wore one himself that day) but taking offense at one student’s Confederate flag belt buckle — whether he he accepted gays. (Glowacki said no, because it went against his religion. McDowell allegedly responded that he should enroll in a Catholic school then.)

Statements from 12 of the 29 students in the class back up the district’s version of events, the report claims, saying McDowell followed the students into the hall to scream at them, calling them racists, and phoned an assistant principal in front of the class saying he didn’t want either kid returning. Superintendent Ron Wilson (pictured, right) says he’s releasing the report because “at this point, we feel compelled to respond with the facts as they have been presented to administration. With many other serious issues before us, it is time for this debate to end.” Moreover, says Wilson, McDowell is “not helping the district by going on TV talking about this issue. I’ve even gotten calls from California from people saying we should reverse our decision. I’m the CEO of the largest corporation in Livingston County. I don’t have the authority to deviate from board policy. This has really put (the district) in a bad light.”

And Wilson insists McDowell threatened the school with a media firestorm: “During one of the earlier meetings with Mr. McDowell regarding the disciplinary action, he threatened to bring a media frenzy upon the schools if the district’s decision was not reversed. He and his supporters have succeeded in painting our schools as having bigoted, racist and homophobic students, and the media has served as an unwitting partner. What started out as a disagreement over the expression of one’s beliefs has degraded into an unhealthy series of diatribes that paint our schools as dangerous places to work and learn.” Indeed, that’s the temperature of events over the past weeks as this story has grown.

McDowell maintains the allegations are “ridiculous” and has filed a complaint against the school; there is a hearing scheduled for next week. And as for the school’s claim that McDowell violated students’ right to free speech? When members of the class quizzed McDowell about their right to speak openly, he supposedly told them, “not in my classroom,” and would often refuse to let students speak their minds while he insisted on preaching his way of thinking.

This story has definitely evolved since it first went national, and it now appears McDowell isn’t the sympathetic figure even we believed him to be. And yet, despite the alleged screaming at students and inappropriate adult behavior, I can’t help but thinking: This is still a guy who doesn’t stand for homophobia and intolerance, and that can’t be a bad thing.

The report concludes student Glowacki was not exhibiting any bullying behavior — but McDowell was, and was thus “suspended for his own inappropriate actions — for bullying students because their beliefs differed from his own.”