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Educators face blowback for protesting Iraq war in schools

Or, in some cases, for even using the word "peace". Mention the word "peace" in a classroom discussion about current events, and if you're in the wrong school district, you could find yourself fired, and blacklisted with an accusation of sexual harrassment.
Just over three years ago, as the nation readied for war with Iraq, elementary school teacher Deb Mayer stood in front of her class and uttered the word that would get her blacklisted from her profession.

It was a word that got her deemed “unpatriotic” by an angry parent. A word that led to her termination from the Bloomington, Indiana school district. A word that got her labeled as a potential sex offender and ruined her chances of finding work elsewhere.

That word was “peace.”
...
In Mayer’s case, she says it was an article in Time Magazine for Kids that lead to her termination. In January 2003, she was teaching a Current Events class to fourth, fifth and sixth graders at Clear Creek Elementary School. They had been discussing the articles in the magazine, which dedicated an issue to the situation in Iraq. One student asked Mayer if she had ever participated in a peace march.

“I said that peace marches are going on all over the country and that whenever I pass the courthouse square where the demonstrators were, I honk for peace because they hold up signs that say honk for peace.”

That night, a sixth-grade student girl told her parents that Mayer was encouraging them to protest against the war, igniting a furor that Mayer said she'd never before experienced in her 20-year teaching career.

Three days later, the girl’s father showed up to the school for a meeting with Mayer and principal Victoria Rogers. Mayer explained that she had simply explained to the children that there are two sides to the story. When the father asked if she had any children in the military, she told him her son had recently enlisted. But that only seemed to antagonize him even further.

“He kept getting angrier and angrier,” she said. “He stood up and started pointing his finger in my face. I felt very threatened.”

The father turned to Rogers with a request.

“I want her to promise never the mention the word peace in her class again,” Mayer remembered him saying.

Rogers assured him that could be done, and Mayer reluctantly agreed never to mention the word “peace” in her class again.

“I wanted to calm the parent down,” she said. “I didn’t want to be insubordinate.”

Later that afternoon in a faculty meeting, Rogers circulated a memo announcing the cancellation of “Peace Month,” a traditional month-long series of activities beginning on Martin Luther King Jr. Day that taught children how to settle differences through mediation.

“She said that we can talk about war, but not about peace,” Mayer said. “That for now on, nobody is allowed to have a stance on the war.”
...
At least two parent complaints against Mayer were typed up on Title IX Sexual Discrimination and Harassment grievance documents and placed in her personnel file.

“There was no substance to it,” Mayer said. “This complaint was very mysterious. I never saw it until I was disposed (in September 2005).”

That likely explains why she had been unable to find work since losing her teaching job on the Gulf Coast of Florida in 2005, where she had been hired as a teacher in Boca Grande, an upscale community and long-time retreat for the Bush family.
...
Even though it was typed on an official sexual harassment document, the actual complaint against Mayer accused her of “harassing” children because she would put up her hand to silence a child if the child had interrupted a conversation between herself and another student.

“The parent had signed it, but nobody on the school administration has signed it,” she said. “When we tried to find out who did it, nobody admitted to it.”
...
Mayer said her case is such a clear cut example of a First Amendment violation that she can not comprehend why it has not already been settled. “At first, the contention of the school was that my speech wasn’t protected because the war in Iraq wasn’t a matter of public concern,” she said. “Then they changed their contention and said that my speech wasn’t protected because the classroom wasn’t a public forum.”

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