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OK Teacher Forced to Resign Over The Laramie Project

Grandfield, OK

 
An Ethics and Street Law teacher at Grandfield High School was suspended after teaching a play about the true story of Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming college student who was brutally murdered because he was gay. The teacher had received approval from the principal to use portions of the play in her class but was told to stop midway through the unit by the superintendent. She ceased teaching the unit, but held a mock-funeral for the play to give her students some closure. As a result she was suspended and her class was cancelled. 
 
The Laramie Project is an award winning play based on 200 interviews conducted with people in the town of Laramie, WY, after Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, tortured, and left to die in 1998.  The teacher said she showed her students a 2002 film based on the play as part of a unit on hate crimes. The students were inspired by the film and opted to film their own short scenes based on the play as part of an in-class project.[1] 
 
After the project was halted and the teacher was suspended, students were confused and upset. “Our ethics class goes over stuff like that all the time,” said one student, who listed abortion and stem cells as other controversial topics that the class had covered.[2] Another went on to say, “We don’t like that it got into a ‘gay’ issue, and we don’t like that an ethics class was canceled over an ethical issue.” One parent also defended the teacher as one of the few “who actually care about our kids” and agreed that the play teaches an important lesson. “I think it was very important because for them to go out into the real world later they’ll need to know that everybody is different and unique,” she said.[3]
 
Despite the outcry from students and parents many of whom spoke to the local news media, the superintendent recommended that the school board fire the teacher. Fearful that being fired would make her unable to get another job, the teacher worked out a resignation agreement that allows her to continue teaching in the state. The district has said that this had nothing to do with sexual orientation or the subject matter of the play, but specifically with insubordination and obscenity.  According to their representing attorney, “If someone is saying that adverse employment action is being taken against [the teacher] because of homosexuality, they’re wrong.”[4]
 
Meanwhile, some students have alleged that the superintendent ranted vocally against homosexuality in front of them shortly after the class was cancelled.  He has denied those accusations and countered, “If I hated gays, I wouldn’t tell kids.”[5]
 
Since the teacher was suspended, the story has gained national media attention and a number of national gay and human rights groups are calling for her immediate reinstatement. Still, the board has made no indication that they will reinstate the teacher. For more information and to view interviews with the teacher and her students, see the article and video on RHRealityCheck.org.


[1] Sonya Colberg, “Project based on ‘The Laramie Project’ stopped; Grandfield teacher resigns,” The Oklahoman, 19 March 2009, accessed 20 March 2009, <www.newsok.com/halt-of-play-puts-spotlight-on-grandfield/article/3354534?custom_click=lead_story_title>.
[2] “Teacher Suspended After Work On Controversial Play,” News Channel 8, 6 March, 2009, accessed on 6 March 2009, <www.ktul.com/news/stories/0309/601291.html>.
[3] Jason Calder, “Teacher Suspension Upsets Students and Parents,” Texomas, 5 March, 2009, accessed on 5 March 2009, <http://texomashomepage.com/content/fulltext/?cid=34512>.
[4] Greg Toppo, “Gay-themed film cost Oklahoma teacher her job,” USA Today, 16 March 2009, accessed 16 March 2009, <www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-03-16-teacher-laramie_N.htm>. 
[5] Zeke Campfield, “Grandfield ethics teacher submits resignation over ‘The Laramie Project’,” Lawton Constitution, 15 March 2009, <http://www.scribd.com/doc/13297864/Grand-Field-Teacher-01>

 

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