Saying her First Amendment free-speech rights have been violated, a Florida teacher says she plans to sue the Orange County School Board after being suspended without pay when a Spanish-language newspaper printed a letter she wrote to a U.S. congressman complaining about the impact of foreigners on the nation.
The controversy began when a hand-written letter written by Jan Hall, 59, to several elected officials was published last month in El Nuevo Dia, a Spanish daily newspaper.
In her letter, Hall said she believed immigrants in Florida were taking jobs poor Americans should have and were using up too many public services, especially public schools, without paying into the system.
She also mentioned her problem with the presence of Puerto Ricans at her school – both students and teachers.
“Our school at Sadler Elementary where I teach is 92 percent Puerto Rican. Please consider changing the laws and keeping these people home in Puerto Rico. They are trashing Orlando daily,” she wrote.
“These P.R. children are holding American children back academically, and Puerto Rican teachers can keep getting extensions on their temporary certificates so that they are allowed to teach without proper training. I can truthfully say that Puerto Rican teachers at my school ask me continually for help with math, as they do not get but the equivalent of a fifth-grade education in Puerto Rico. They almost always can do no algebra and rely on the system to get by.”
Hall further stated that Haitian children were “more aggressive in the classroom” and that Mexican immigrants bring drugs and disease into the U.S.
The private letter, which apparently was leaked to the Spanish paper by a member of Congress, was roundly criticized, resulting in Hall’s suspension without pay by the school district.
“She has been removed from Sadler Elementary and will not be returning to Sadler Elementary regardless of the outcome of the investigation,” Orange County Schools spokesman Frank Kruppenbacher said, according to WKMG-TV in Orlando.
“The letter was written by an employee of our district that contained information that does not reflect the views of this school district or its leadership. Nor is it condoned by this leadership.”
Hall submitted her resignation on Aug. 30, saying, “I’m tired of fooling with them. I’m sure I can go to work in a private school in another county.”
WKMG reported Hall had gotten high marks from principals over the years – she’s been a teacher for nearly three decades – but some Hispanics in her classroom have complained about how they were treated. The district offered several options, including teaching homebound students, if she apologized and met with a psychiatrist.
Hall said she rejected the offers because officials did not address her key issue – investigating how a principal at Englewood Elementary handled her complaints when a student battered her in 2002 so badly she underwent reconstructive surgery.
Later, Hall’s attorney announced plans to file a $20 million lawsuit against board members.
“If your employer intentionally makes the conditions of your workplace so hostile that any reasonable person, in your shoes, would quit, then yes technically, she resigned,” Hall’s attorney Fred O’Neal said.
The board refused to accept the resignation in light of the lawsuit threat.
The suit reads, in part: “… you, nevertheless, chose to use her exercise of these clearly protected constitutional rights as grounds to suspend her without pay, to publicly disparage and humiliate her, to demonize her in the Greater Orlando community. …”
Said O’Neal: “They created an atmosphere where she is afraid for her physical safety. They demonized her in the community. They turned certain parts of this community against her that now hate her.”
WFLA talk-show host Pat Campbell defended Hall.
“This lady sent a private, personal correspondence to her elected representatives voicing some of her very legitimate concerns about the school district,” Campbell told WND.
The radio host mentioned problems with teacher certification and English-language issues in the local schools.
“When we bring this up on the radio, nobody has called up to say ‘Jan Hall is a liar,'” Campbell explained.
Campbell said he is concerned, however, about some of the “sweeping generalizations” Hall made in the letter.
“I think some of them are maybe born out of ignorance,” he said. “If anything, maybe she deserves to go to the ‘Marge Schott-John Rocker School of Sensitivity Training,’ but I don’t think she deserves to lose her job.”
Campbell says Hall fears going to the grocery store now because she has been portrayed as a racist.
“I don’t think she’s a racist,” he told WND. “If she had used derogatory terms, I’d say she probably is a racist – but she didn’t.”
Campbell says he is hoping to uncover the identity of the person who shared the letter with El Nuevo Dia, saying whatever elected official turned it over “cannot be trusted.”
According to the Orland Sentinel, Hall said she stood by the words she wrote and that she never intended for them to be publicized. She also apologized for offending anyone.