Educator says teachers giving opinions in class, online is ‘putting up barriers’ for students

The Westwood Heights school district is investigating a teacher for homophobic and racist remarks others say she made at school and online.
Published: Feb. 25, 2021 at 6:06 PM EST
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MT. MORRIS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WJRT) - (2/25/2021) - The situation at a mid-Michigan high school is bringing a much broader issue to light -- teachers mixing education with opinion.

Can a teacher’s personal views impact how their students learn?

An English teacher in the Westwood Heights School District is under investigation for homophobic and racist remarks her coworkers say she made in person and online.

It’s an investigation ABC12 first shared with you Wednesday after her co-workers spoke out anonymously, saying the woman’s conduct has been a concern for three years.

They remain worried she won’t be held accountable because the teacher in question is married to the Superintendent.

ABC12 spoke with a mid-Michigan educator about their concerns and why a teacher’s acceptance and understanding are so important to a student’s development.

“Not being open and not having a safe classroom, I think it can, you know, really hinder a student well past graduation, well into their adult life. It can be very scarring,” Bruce Jordan, the MEA Uniserv Director shared.

It’s important to note, he cannot speak directly to the situation at Westwood Heights’ Academy West. And the school does not have a teacher’s union.

But, Jordan spoke to his experience as a longtime educator. He was a classroom teacher who now serves as a union advocate.

ABC12 shared with Jordan the social media posts first aired Wednesday.

Two teachers brought them to ABC12 saying the English teacher’s remarks are intolerant, homophobic, racist and offensive.

“If the investigation proves that these statements were made and that kind of thing, you know, I can guarantee -- I personally -- I would be offended,” he shared. “Classrooms are supposed to be a safe environment.”

Jordan said that’s especially true for a classroom at an alternative high school, where many students already have their own challenges.

The social media posts and comments shared with ABC12 were made directly on the woman’s students or coworkers’ Facebook pages, as well as in a group for the high school.

One post was an article shared about a member of the LGBTQ community, in which the teacher under investigation comments saying, “This whole non-binary stuff is a sickness.” She also adds, “Transgender life is sick and perverted. These poor mixed-up kids.”

The English teacher also appears to take issue with students kneeling during the National Anthem. In several comments on a Facebook post cheering on a teacher who did just that, a post under the teacher’s profile calls the action “despicable” and adds that, “Kneeling for the anthem is pathetic and weak. I stand for the flag in my classroom EVERY day ....and I expect them to do the same.”

In another post -- this one about the African-American holiday Kwanzaa -- her comment calls it a “made-up” holiday, adding it’s a “Flash in the pan created by a black power activist, I think???”

“The moment you put your, your stamp right on what should or should not be accepted and that’s the way it is, then, then you’re already putting barriers up when you’re supposed to be helping take the barriers down,” Jordan said.

He explained someone is simply not cut out for the job if the person has racist tendencies and can’t accept students for who they are.

“You know, I feel for the students that have been exposed to that,” he added.

Westwood Heights school district is still not commenting at this time because the investigation is ongoing.

ABC12 did reach out directly to the teacher as well. She has not returned the request for a comment.

Jordan also pointed out teachers have the right to free speech, but like police officers and religious officials, they’re held to a different standard.

Here’s an excerpt from Westwood Heights’ policy about a teacher’s online presence: “While the Board respects its employees’ First Amendment rights, those rights do not include permission to post inflammatory comments that could compromise the District’s mission... Postings to social media should be done in a manner sensitive to the staff member’s professional responsibilities.”

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