Fired teacher stands by actions

Publication Date: Wednesday Apr 8, 1998

SCHOOLS: Fired teacher stands by actions

Jordan students protest to support teacher who developed close relationships with kids

by Charlie Breitrose

David Gray, a Jordan Middle School teacher fired at the end of March, is standing by his unorthodox ways of relating to students. And his students are still standing behind the English and social studies teacher. The first-year teacher was popular with his students, often showing movies in his classroom or playing basketball with the kids during the lunch break. The March 27 dismissal came as a surprise to Gray, he said.

"The principal (Dee Brummett) pulled me aside during the staff development day," Gray said. "I didn't know why."

Gray, reached by telephone at his home last week, said Brummett and Superintendent Don Phillips met with him briefly and said, "It would be in the best interest of the kids if you left now."

"I said, 'This is a joke!?,'" Gray recalled. "But the superintendent said, `This is no joke.'"

Gray said he was surprised when he was told he was being let go, and was not given written reasons. Brummett did list reasons verbally to him, he said.

Some of the reasons, Gray said, were: showing the movie "Austin Powers" in class; walking out of a meeting between students, himself and administrators; telling a joke about President Clinton, the pope and the Virgin Mary; pouring water on the head of a student who had fallen asleep in class; and having his students post their grievances about the school in the hallway as a part of a lesson on Martin Luther. The Martin Luther assignment, Gray said, was part of a lesson in the social studies textbook.

Daniel Worthman, a seventh-grader in Gray's social studies class, said that Gray has a very close relationship with his students, and has hugged students and told them he loved them.

"Female (teachers) can do it, but males can't for some reason," Worthman said.

Gray said all incidents he had been warned about by Jordan administrators were not repeated.

"I feel all of the reasons combined don't warrant a dismissal," Gray said.

Gray's students were not notified until they walked into class the following Monday, March 30.

"What they told us was that Mr. Gray is gone," Worthman said. "They didn't say why. They didn't let him come in and say goodbye."

More than 50 students demonstrated in Gray's support before and after school and during the brunch and lunch breaks on April 2.

While he was very disappointed about his firing, Gray said he was proud of how his students have handled themselves.

"They've been calling me every day, telling me they are trying to get me back," Gray said. "They even went out to protest, but they didn't miss any class."

Brummett said she could not comment on personnel issues, but she said Gray would not be returning this year.

"We have two substitutes in each class this week," Brummett said. "We will be hiring someone over spring break to be in that position for the rest of the year."

Gray was on a temporary contract, which can be terminated at any time without any reason given, said Candace Simpson, associate superintendent for human resources.

"My grievance representative with the (California Teachers' Association) said (that) as a first-year teacher I have no recourse," Gray said.

Meanwhile, Gray said he plans to try to get a job teaching high school.

Worthman, who was part of the protest last week, said he and about 100 other students signed a petition asking for Gray to be reinstated. 

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