The details listed in this article have been told to me by students familiar with the issue and gathered from an obtained letter from the school district.
The Mount Horeb Area School District recently placed a high school teacher on administrative leave after a demand from a student’s parents because the class’s discussion was perceived as offensive to one of its students. The course, titled Social Problems, takes a look at difficult topics that help students be better able to engage with the broader community—a course I took as a senior in high school in 2014 with the same teacher. We discussed poverty, education, rape culture, abuse, bullying, and a plethora of other topics that were difficult to discuss and teach, but were important to expose. Further, when I took it, the course required a parent permission slip be signed before the semester started, detailing the potential difficulty of the course’s topics and its discussions.
The District is no stranger to giving way to parent pressure, the previous incident occurred when the District was planning to read Jazz Jennings’s book to a second grade class in order to help them understand the transition of a classmate. Parents felt this was overstepping by the district, and made a grandstand that caused the District to bar the second grade teacher from reading the book; the reading was then hosted at the Public Library and the incident got picked up by national news. A position that signaled public appeasement rather than making a student feel accepted and comfortable at school.
This particular instance, the one that led to the administrative leave, there was a class discussion of women in society and their portrayal. The class started the discussion on the names women get called, ranging from bitch to much more vulgar words that were contributed by the students in the class as a brainstorming activity to shed light on the topic, a student told me. They also discussed how media can play into these perceptions and name-calling. After the introductory activity, the teacher showed portions of the documentary, Miss Representation, which explores media’s disparaging portrayals of women and how it contributes to fewer women in positions of leadership and power. The documentary had instances of mild female nudity.
Allegedly, a student in the class felt offended and that the class crossed a line. The student notified their parents who then contacted the administration with their complaint. The administration then notified the teacher the following morning detailing the complaint and potential ramifications. Then, two of the High School's administrators escorted her to her room during the transition between class periods to gather her things, create lesson plans, and that she was to leave. Upon the unfolding of these event in her classroom, in front of students, students began to cry thinking they had just been witness to one of their favorite teacher’s firings. Not only did the administration and district not have the decency to privately relieve the teacher of her duties, but they also took a parent’s complaint into consideration, with no investigation, when making their preliminary decision.
The teacher that has temporarily been relieved of her duties is an educator who advocated for the addition of a club that tore down walls between students with various abilities/disabilities; pushes her students to work harder and achieve more because she believes they can; actively works with students and community members to volunteer in the area; and teaches a class called Social Problems to expand students’ world views.
The District has once again given way to parent pressure, but this time it was the parent of an upperclassman in high school. I would strongly urge the District to consider the position they are beginning to take: educators have the autonomy to teach topics in their own way so long as it doesn’t offend parents or students—an educational philosophy that adds no value.
Update: As of about 5:00 PM CST on Monday, May 22, the District released another letter announcing the teacher's reinstatement.