A school is punishing two admired high school social studies teachers, one described as conservative, for promoting a “locker room” and “boys club” environment in their classrooms, but students are firing back and demanding the school board reconsider its disciplinary action.
Matt Nelligan and Anne Marie McManus, two former instructors at Guilderland High School in Guilderland Center, N.Y., were reassigned June 26 to Farnsworth Middle School and neither understands why, according to Times Union reports.
Nelligan, an outspoken critic of the teachers union, has been accused by school officials of calling a “gay” staff member disparaging names. However, the administration is refusing to allow him access to their culture climate report and have not provided substantiated evidence of the accusation.
The social studies teacher said he believes the district accused him of intolerance because he disagrees with union leaders’ close relationships with district administrators, and they wanted to silence him.
“It’s an absolute abuse of power, and it’s shameful,” he said. “Taxpayers should be outraged that (the district) should waste their money going after people they don’t like.”
McManus was not teaching at the school when the inquiry took place because she was on maternity leave. She said news of her reassignment had her in tears for several days because school officials never revealed why they were punishing her. They simply said the decision was to protect the culture of the social studies department.
“I’ve given my life to that place,” she said. “I feel lost.”
Several students have created Facebook and MySpace website pages to support the teachers. More than 615 people joined the groups as of Wednesday, and an online petition is circulating to dispute the school’s disciplinary action. Hundreds of supporters also attended a school board meeting to protest the administration’s treatment of the teachers. The gathering reportedly became so heated, the board left early and went into private executive session after declining to accept public comment on the matter.
Former student Liz Sherman said Nelligan, her conservative instructor, was one of the finest instructors she’s ever had because he challenged her to think about why she held liberal political views, the Times Union reported. She said he never shied away from expressing his own ideas, but he was respectful and open-minded about her dissenting views as well.
“He makes you think about why that’s your opinion,” Sherman said. “He’s not derogatory by any means.”
Many students refer to themselves as liberal on the social networks and express disappointment at the school’s actions toward two of their valued instructors.
While records indicate the department is dysfunctional, social studies students earned many of the highest Regents exams scores in the district, and Nelligan’s performance reviews show exemplary marks. He has received top awards and been selected as an outstanding teacher twice.
Teacher Lisa Bedian has worked in the school’s social studies department for six years. She said the board’s report of it as a boys club is “baffling” and that she has never observed intolerant behavior from instructors.
“It’s a healthy environment where everyone can agree to disagree,” she said.
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