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Two Charles City teachers placed on leave over inappropriate language allegations

By Bob Steenson,

Two Charles City Middle School teachers have been placed on leave pending the results of an investigation alleging that they used vulgar and inappropriate language while reading a story in eighth-grade classrooms.

A special meeting of the Charles City School District Board of Education has been called for noon Monday, including an item listed as “Discussion of personnel matter.”

Superintendent Mike Fisher would not confirm whether that item was about what allegedly happened at the middle school, but every indication is that it is.

Joe Taylor, the middle school principal, talked with the Press about what was thought to have happened in a classroom earlier this week.

“We received a couple of complaints from students and parents about a possible policy violation, really involving inappropriate language, so we started asking some questions,” said Taylor, who is in his third year as middle school principal in Charles City.

He said an eighth-grade reading teacher and a special education teacher who were in a co-teaching situation working on a social issues unit came up with a lesson that included reading to the class a story from an anthology titled “Fresh Ink.”

Taylor said the social issues unit was part of the class that is pre-selected by the district, but the reading was not content selected by the district.

“The teacher went on her own and found a book and selected a short story from the book,” Taylor said.

The story allegedly read out loud by at least one of the teachers was “Catch, Pull, Drive,” by Schuyler Bailar, who was the first openly transgender male to compete on a men’s team in an NCAA Division 1 sport, having been on the Harvard men’s swimming team for four years.

The short story is a first-person account of the first swimming practice after Bailer came out as trangender to his high school swimming team. It contains several swear words, some vulgar words, and several transphobic and homophobic slurs.

Taylor said some students told their parents about the reading and some of those parents contacted the school.

“We just started our investigation immediately, actually that night that we received the calls,” he said.

“I immediately let the teachers know that they were going to be placed on leave while we conducted the investigation, and kind of told them we didn’t know how long it was going to be that they were on leave until we figured out what was going on,” Taylor said.

Justin DeVore, the school district director of communication, said the biggest issue is that it allegedly violated school policy on “inappropriate and vulgar.”

The school district has a policy on teaching controversial subjects that was passed by the Board of Education in 2017.

Among the provisions of the policy is the statement, “It is the responsibility of the instructor to protect the right of the student to study pertinent controversial issues within the limits of good taste and to allow the student to express personal opinions without jeopardizing the student’s relationship with the teacher.”

Taylor said the parents who called the school were upset that the story’s language used in the classroom went directly against the lesson that was being taught.

“Language was being used that they would never use at home. That was the biggest thing that they were most upset about,” he said.

“As soon as we started to realize what was going on we called every single family that was affected. About 120 families we contacted that next day, just to be able to let them know and be totally transparent as much as we could about what was going on,” Tayler said.

He said the parents were informed that there was inappropriate language that was used in 8th grade reading class, that the teachers that had used the inappropriate language were put on leave and there was an investigation that was occurring.

Taylor said they didn’t get involved in discussing personnel issues with the parents, but let them know the district was handling it.

“We apologized on behalf of the district for that happening in the classroom,” he said.

Taylor said most of the parents were grateful for the communication, and were glad that the school district had called them before they found out about it in some other way.

DeVore said there have been follow-up calls with some parents who have expressed concern about the situation.

Taylor said, “I would hope the parents are feeling like this is being handled sufficiently. We’ve been super transparent and forthcoming as much as we can. Obviously this is sensitive personnel issues that we’re dealing with and we can’t get too into it with them.”

Neither Taylor nor Superintendent Fisher would identify the teachers involved.

Taylor, referring to the reading teacher, said, “The students really like her. She’s a good teacher. She really loves kids and they really like her. She prides herself on having really great relationships with kids.”

Talking about the students, Taylor said, “Obviously it’s been an emotional time here at the middle school. One of their teachers that they love is not here currently. They have a lot of questions — questions that I can’t really talk about with them. It’s been emotional. They’re eighth graders. They’re 13 and 14 years old, so, it’s confusing.”

DeVore clarified that the investigation is continuing as to whether one or both teachers read the story out loud in a classroom.

“We’re independently investigating both teachers,” he said. “The investigation is ongoing and we’re still determining how each teacher utilized the text.”

The agenda for Monday’s special noon Board of Education meeting says under the “Discussion of Personnel matter” item that “This discussion could possibly be in closed session if requested.”

Among the reasons to be allowed to legally close a public meeting under Iowa law is a provision “to evaluate the professional competency of an individual whose appointment, hiring, performance or discharge is being considered, when necessary to prevent needless and irreparable injury to that individual’s reputation.”

Also, in order for the meeting to be closed, the person whose performance is being discussed has to request that the meeting be closed, whether that person will be present at the meeting or not.


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