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Old 11-16-2010, 04:21 PM   #1
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Teacher Ejects Student For Saying "I Don't Accept Gays"

By Associated Press | Tuesday, November 16, 2010


DETROIT — Howell High School economics teacher Jay McDowell says he didn’t like where the discussion was going after a student told his classmates he didn’t "accept gays," so McDowell kicked the boy out of class for a day.

In return, the teacher was kicked out of his Michigan school for a day — suspended without pay for violating the student’s free speech rights.

The incident has sparked intense debate in Howell, about 45 miles northwest of Detroit, over defending civil rights without trampling on the First Amendment. It’s gained far wider attention since the Livingston County Press & Argus released video of a 14-year-old gay student from another city defending McDowell at a Howell school board meeting.

On Oct. 20, McDowell told a student in his classroom to remove a Confederate Flag belt buckle. She complied, but it prompted a question from a boy about how the flag differs from the rainbow flag, a symbol of pride for the gay community.

"I explained the difference between the flags, and he said, ’I don’t accept gays,’" said McDowell, 42, who was wearing a shirt with an anti-gay bullying message.

McDowell said he told the student he couldn’t say that in class.

"And he said, ’Why? I don’t accept gays. It’s against my religion.’ I reiterated that it’s not appropriate to say something like that in class," McDowell said Monday.

McDowell said he sent the boy out of the room for a one-day class suspension. Another boy asked if he also could leave because he also didn’t accept gays.

"The classroom discussion was heading in a direction I didn’t want it to head," McDowell said.

McDowell soon received a reprimand letter from the district that said his actions violated the students’ free speech rights as well as school policy. It also said he "purposefully initiated a controversial issue" by the wearing the T-shirt featuring the anti-gay bullying message.

"I thought it was a really great, teachable moment," McDowell said of his decision to remove the student from class.

Graeme Taylor is among those who agree. The 14-year-old, who does not go to Howell schools, says he is gay and attended a recent school board meeting to praise a teacher who "finally stood up and said something."

"I’ve been in classrooms where children have said the worst things," the boy told the board. "The kinds of things that drove me to a suicide attempt when I was 9 years old."

Video of Graeme’s comments had been viewed on YouTube more than 13,000 times as of Monday evening, when Howell schools held a community diversity forum that district spokeswoman Kim Root said was meant to be a step forward.

"We can learn some things from this episode," she said, adding the district hoped to receive recommendations from the public to improve "the tolerance of the district and enhance diversity efforts we already have in place."

Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Legal Project, credits McDowell for trying to create a "welcoming environment for all students." But Kaplan said the "teachable moment" would have come if the students stayed in the classroom.

"We believe, based on those statements — as offensive and upsetting as they were — they were protected speech," Kaplan said. "The only way we’re going to create a better environment in schools is to start talking about this."

Kaplan said Howell schools have expressed interest in accepting the ACLU’s offer to provide in-person training to students, faculty and staff. He said such training could provide a better understanding of what can be said and done.

McDowell has filed a complaint against the district over the discipline he received, but said Monday he primarily wants to "force the school to look at itself."

"I want to force adults to look at what situation we’ve created," he said. "I would really like us to be more aggressive in our policing of harassing and bullying."

YouTube - Openly Gay Student Defends Teacher at School Board Meeting
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Old 11-16-2010, 04:41 PM   #2
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McDowell said he sent the boy out of the room for a one-day class suspension. Another boy asked if he also could leave because he also didn’t accept gays.
This made me laugh. The first kid is an idiot. The second is a sly opportunist.
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Old 11-16-2010, 04:57 PM   #3
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I think McDowell was wrong to remove the boy from class for voicing (what appears to be) an opinion that differs from McDowell's. Just because he didn't like what one of his students had to say doesn't make it "inappropriate". He abused his authority & was dealt a reasonable punishment. I don't see where his complaint/appeal has any legs.
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Old 11-16-2010, 05:06 PM   #4
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Just because he didn't like what one of his students had to say doesn't make it "inappropriate".
I think he called it inappropriate because there are probably gay kids in the class, odds are. Just like it would be inappropriate to say in class "I don't accept Jewish people, I don't accept African Americans", etc. If you're trying to foster an atmosphere of acceptance for all and to reduce bullying you wouldn't want that going on.

Religious beliefs or not-you are entitled to your religious beliefs but it's a public school, not a religious or private school.
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Old 11-16-2010, 05:10 PM   #5
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Old 11-16-2010, 05:26 PM   #6
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I think he called it inappropriate because there are probably gay kids in the class, odds are. Just like it would be inappropriate to say in class "I don't accept Jewish people, I don't accept African Americans", etc. If you're trying to foster an atmosphere of acceptance for all and to reduce bullying you wouldn't want that going on.
I'm agree with you that it's likely McDowell was trying to stand up for gay students in the class (maybe even himself?) & that was the impetus for his comments. And I appreciate that he didn't want the male student to be given a forum to intimidate anyone - but what if they'd been discussing the Holocaust & this student stated he didn't accept that? Or if they'd been discussing Darwin & the student said he didn't accept evolution? The boy's entitled to those opinions, whether the teacher likes them or not. I think a better way for McDowell to have kept the conversation from going somewhere he "didn't want it to go" would have to been to simply state that his classroom wasn't the place to debate the subject & moved on. That way, he doesn't force his views on anyone else & the student isn't given opportunity to bully his peers.
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Old 11-16-2010, 05:58 PM   #7
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Upcoming Southpark episode on this, guaranteed. And teacher will be the butt of it.
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Old 11-16-2010, 05:58 PM   #8
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There's a lot of different issues going on here, none of which are being addressed correctly.

First and foremost, you DO NOT have guaranteed free speech in high school. You have dress codes, policies, etc that limit your speech. This is not an example of government censorship.

Secondly, let's forget for a minute that you are a fucking ignorant bigot, "your religion" more than likely does not tell you you "don't accept gays". What the hell are you accepting them into?

Thirdly, the last time I checked anytime a student is disruptive to a classroom they are subject to discipline, this would definitely fall under "disruptive".
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Old 11-16-2010, 06:12 PM   #9
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What I dont understand is the teachers comment that this was a 'teachable moment'. You dont do that by ejecting a kid from class. Why not have a discussion? Some of the most memorable times from my high school years were when we went on a tangent and discussed something topical. This seems more like a missed opportunity than a teachable moment
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Old 11-16-2010, 06:51 PM   #10
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There's a lot of different issues going on here, none of which are being addressed correctly.

First and foremost, you DO NOT have guaranteed free speech in high school. You have dress codes, policies, etc that limit your speech. This is not an example of government censorship.

Secondly, let's forget for a minute that you are a fucking ignorant bigot, "your religion" more than likely does not tell you you "don't accept gays". What the hell are you accepting them into?

Thirdly, the last time I checked anytime a student is disruptive to a classroom they are subject to discipline, this would definitely fall under "disruptive".
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What I dont understand is the teachers comment that this was a 'teachable moment'. You dont do that by ejecting a kid from class. Why not have a discussion? Some of the most memorable times from my high school years were when we went on a tangent and discussed something topical. This seems more like a missed opportunity than a teachable moment
Both of these posts make excellent points.

The Confederate Flag is representative of a belief system, an ideology, and it seems that it was okay for him to ask for the removal of something that represented that.

Taking action against someone who says they don't "accept gays" is different, and should be taken more seriously, IMO. The kids was directly referring to a group of people, some of whom were probably present in the room. I'm glad that this teacher did what he did, to show the kids how unacceptable this type of statement is, even if he could have handled it a bit better, as JT suggested above. At least he did something.
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Old 11-16-2010, 11:37 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by BVS View Post
There's a lot of different issues going on here, none of which are being addressed correctly.

First and foremost, you DO NOT have guaranteed free speech in high school. You have dress codes, policies, etc that limit your speech. This is not an example of government censorship.

Secondly, let's forget for a minute that you are a fucking ignorant bigot, "your religion" more than likely does not tell you you "don't accept gays". What the hell are you accepting them into?

Thirdly, the last time I checked anytime a student is disruptive to a classroom they are subject to discipline, this would definitely fall under "disruptive".
thank you. there's no such thing as free speech in school like you said. if a teacher can give you detention for saying "fuck" in the lunch room, then the first amendment does not apply.

while the punishment given to the kid seems a bit extreme, the teacher's heart was in the right place. saying something as hateful as that is ridiculous. that's what it is, hate speech, plain and simple. teachers have the opportunity to let these kids find out about different cultures, etc. and teach them not to be afraid of our differences (which can then trigger such homophobic things like not "accepting" different races or lifestyles).

and don't even get me started on this confederate flag bullshit.
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Old 11-17-2010, 12:14 AM   #12
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The documentation for the school's disciplinary ruling against McDowell is posted here. Three violations are cited: violating First Amendment rights; violating the school's suspensions policy; and violating the school's curriculum policy.

Only his ordering the girl to remove the Confederate belt buckle is specifically alleged to be a violation of First Amendment rights. I don't think that's an open-and-shut matter, but, state supreme courts have been very inconsistent in their rulings on the constitutionality of Confederate flag bans in schools, so, while I personally strongly support such bans, I can understand why a school might be skittish about individual teachers taking it upon themselves to order students to remove Confederate-logo clothing, especially when other 'ideological' flags are being worn by the same teachers (in one court case, a school's ban was struck down specifically because it only applied to Confederate flags).

The suspensions policy violation was a technical one: he apparently failed to notify the student's parents, as required by the policy. As for the curriculum violation, in all his class sections for that day, he spent most of the time showing some film which had nothing to do with economics, but was related to the gay pride theme (it was a day when many students and educators around the country were wearing shirts like his--I think as part of an anti-bullying campaign). There's also some other allegations woven through the document to the effect that he "bullied" the students, shut down "scholarly inquiry," etc., which I don't agree with, but in any case those don't seem to be presented as policy violations per se.
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Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Legal Project, credits McDowell for trying to create a "welcoming environment for all students." But Kaplan said the "teachable moment" would have come if the students stayed in the classroom.

"We believe, based on those statements — as offensive and upsetting as they were — they were protected speech," Kaplan said. "The only way we’re going to create a better environment in schools is to start talking about this."
While I'd like to agree with Kaplan, I'm not sure how realistic it is to assign schoolteachers an ongoing duty "to start talking about this" in lieu of faster ways to neutralize potentially socially toxic classroom situations. My first, off-the-cuff reaction was to think, "Well, okay, so you just remind the kid it's not up to him to decide who's 'acceptable' in school, just as you wouldn't let other kids decide he's 'unacceptable' because he's Catholic." But the problem with going that route is then he'll probably respond with something like, "No, no, I don't mean I don't accept gays in school, I meant I don't accept this gay pride stuff--I think gay acts are immoral, not something to be proud of--why can't I say that?" And then you'll need an answer ready for that...and on and on.

If you really want to have a "welcoming environment for all" in a situation where tuning each other out or walking away isn't an option, you'll have to exercise some "censorship." But it does need to be implemented consistently, and not at the individual teacher's whim.
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Old 11-18-2010, 07:50 PM   #13
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The documentation for the school's disciplinary ruling against McDowell is posted here. Three violations are cited: violating First Amendment rights; violating the school's suspensions policy; and violating the school's curriculum policy.

Only his ordering the girl to remove the Confederate belt buckle is specifically alleged to be a violation of First Amendment rights. I don't think that's an open-and-shut matter, but, state supreme courts have been very inconsistent in their rulings on the consitutionality of Confederate flag bans in schools, so, while I personally strongly support such bans, I can understand why a school might be skittish about individual teachers taking it upon themselves to order students to remove Confederate-logo clothing, especially when other 'ideological' flags are being worn by the same teachers (in one court case, a school's ban was struck down specifically because it only applied to Confederate flags).

The suspensions policy violation was a technical one: he apparently failed to notify the student's parents, as required by the policy. As for the curriculum violation, in all his class sections for that day, he spent most of the time showing some film which had nothing to do with economics, but was related to the gay pride theme (it was a day when many students and educators around the country were wearing shirts like his--I think as part of an anti-bullying campaign). There's also some other allegations woven through the document to the effect that he "bullied" the students, shut down "scholarly inquiry," etc., which I don't agree with, but in any case those don't seem to be presented as policy violations per se.

While I'd like to agree with Kaplan, I'm not sure how realistic it is to assign schoolteachers an ongoing duty "to start talking about this" in lieu of faster ways to neutralize potentially socially toxic classroom situations. My first, off-the-cuff reaction was to think, "Well, okay, so you just remind the kid it's not up to him to decide who's 'acceptable' in school, just as you wouldn't let other kids decide he's 'unacceptable' because he's Catholic." But the problem with going that route is then he'll probably respond with something like, "No, no, I don't mean I don't accept gays in school, I meant I don't accept this gay pride stuff--I think gay acts are immoral, not something to be proud of--why can't I say that?" And then you'll need an answer ready for that...and on and on.

If you really want to have a "welcoming environment for all" in a situation where tuning each other out or walking away isn't an option, you'll have to exercise some "censorship." But it does need to be implemented consistently, and not at the individual teacher's whim.


This nails the issue, I think, to a point.

"Only his ordering the girl to remove the Confederate belt buckle is specifically alleged to be a violation of First Amendment rights. I don't think that's an open-and-shut matter, but, state supreme courts have been very inconsistent in their rulings on the consitutionality of Confederate flag bans in schools, so, while I personally strongly support such bans, I can understand why a school might be skittish about individual teachers taking it upon themselves to order students to remove Confederate-logo clothing, especially when other 'ideological' flags are being worn by the same teachers (in one court case, a school's ban was struck down specifically because it only applied to Confederate flags)"


I think a ban on a Confederate symbol is a violation of the first Amendment.

As a Christian, I see and hear things daily that offend me, but I do not seek to ban them.

It's puzzling to me, that we seem to be spiraling towards a society that desires the fish to all swim in the same direction.

And we seem to be loving it!
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Old 11-18-2010, 08:24 PM   #14
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Agreed, Iron_Horse.

As regards the Confederacy belt buckle and general issues around the Confederacy flag, it seems to me that there's a really odd kind of hypocrisy in the building about this one, because the liberal left, interestingly enough, have not thus far called for the banning of Che Guevera t-shirts ('cos Che represents freedom and equality, dude) and (no doubt, joking and ironic) t-shirts commemorating Stalin, Lenin and the like in high schools and college campuses.
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Old 11-18-2010, 08:31 PM   #15
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One happened to their own anscestors in their own backyard and other kids are rubbing it in their faces... probably not the case with Che or ironic shirts.
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