school bullying

The Stupid First Amendment Argument Being Used To Punish Michigan Teacher Jay McDowell

In reprimanding Michigan high school teacher Jay McDowell for telling a student his anti-gay comments were unacceptable and having him leave the class, administrators said his actions “could be construed as teacher-to-student bullying; ironic of the anti-bullying message of the day. Your demonstration of intolerance stands in contradistinction of the anti-bullying message of the day.” Both McDowell and the Howell Education Association, of which he is president, are calling bullshit.

What the nine-year Howell High School teacher McDowell did was confront student Dan Glowacki’s belief that wearing a Confederate flag belt buckle — to many, a sign of racist support — was the equivalent of people wearing purple in support of LGBT youth. For that, McDowell was suspended for a day without pay; he’s appealing. But McDowell, who’s filing a grievance contesting the district’s decision, says the school district’s report, which blames the incident squarely on the teacher, is a “complete fabrication” of what transpired.

“You disciplined them in anger under the guise of harassment and bullying because you opposed their religious belief and were offended by it,” the reprimand letter continues. “The students were causing no disruption to the educational process” — a clear nod to students’ First Amendment protections, which are limited in schools only by disruption of normal school activity. Part of McDowell’s punishment calls for him to attend First Amendment protection training. Hah.

So how did McDowell start this all off? By wearing a purple t-shirt, the letter from Principal Aaron Moran and Deputy Superintendent Sandra Moore says. That forced students to ask him about what it meant — and now, rather than treating it as an opportunity to teach students about the dangers of LGBT bullying, they’re attacking a guy who’s actually trying to foster an environment of acceptance. The purple shirt, says the school, was controversial — so much so McDowell is now barred from engaging with students in “controversial issues.”

Most shockingly, besides the school district saying a teacher violated a student’s First Amendment rights (and thus setting itself up for one helluva lawsuit from the student’s parents), the school sides with racism over tolerance. “You also state you routinely do not allow this expression in your classroom because it offends you, and you personally connect this symbol to a list of oppressions and atrocities,” the district writes in the letter. “You do, however, allow the display of the rainbow flag, to which some of your students have voiced opposition.” A clear opportunity to embrace cultural identities, lost amidst this “controversy.” But let’s give McDowell the last word, because he deserves it: “[T]he district has for the last year asked students to remove Confederate flags that have flown from the back of cars and trucks in the school parking lot. The reprimand states that the wearing of the Confederate flag and the statement, ‘I don’t accept gays,’ did not cause a substantial disruption to the educational process and, therefore, I violated the students’ First Amendment rights. I disagree. I believe any symbol or speech that can cause a student to sit in fear in the classroom whether or not there is an outward show of that fear is by its very nature a disruption to the educational process.” [Livingston Daily]