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|Ga. school district fires teacher over anti-bully efforts, gay-themed film|
|by Ryan Watkins|
|November 09, 2010 18:02|
The Haralson County school board terminated teacher Dave Dixon last night after Dixon showed a short clip from the film “The Reckoning” during a lesson on bullying. Dixon, who taught drama at Haralson County High School, said recent LGBT-youth suicides provided an opportunity for a “teachable moment.”
Haralson County High School is located on Ga. Highway 120 in Tallapoosa, Ga.
“The Reckoning,” a short film starring Bruce Hart, centers on Tom Shepard, a character who is gay-bashed after his public display of pride. Hart is a personal friend of Dixon who Dixon described as “the sweetest man you’ll ever meet.”
“The Reckoning” is loosely based on the story of Matthew Shepard, according to the website IMDB.
Dixon said he showed a clip from the film to his class, but after a scene with obscene language, he quickly turned off the video and apologized to his class.
In the scene in question, one of the characters asks another, “Do you suck cock?”
“A female student complained to her mother,” Dixon said. “If this movie was not about gay rights, this wouldn’t have come up.”
“I’ve never felt so bullied,” he said. “My purpose was to try to prevent it.”
Dixon said he is heterosexual and has four children with a grandchild on the way. A teacher at Haralson High for four years, Dixon said he’s been acting his entire life and has been around gays and lesbians frequently. “It’s a non-issue,” he said.
“I had open-minded parents who were actors. They always said, ‘we’re here to perform, not to judge,’” he said.
He also said he’s had several gay, lesbian and bisexual students but most had chosen to keep their sexual orientation a secret.
Dixon said he was particularly sensitive to bullying because a friend was nearly killed in a gay-bashing incident in the early 1990s.
Haralson County High School Principal Charles Needham said today that a student’s mother complained about the film clip and the complaint led to an investigation which was eventually presented to the county’s Board of Education.
“The investigation started after a complaint from the parent of one of the students in the class,” Needham said.
“Information was collected and provided to the board. Both sides had legal representation,” he added.
Needham also said that he testified before the board.
The Board of Education met Monday, Nov. 8, to discuss the case which saw several students testify on behalf of Dixon.
After the Board of Education heard the case, the five members held a private deliberation, after which a public vote was taken. Three members voted to terminate Dixon, while two voted against the firing.
When Dixon was asked if he thought the board’s decision was anti-gay in nature, he said, “We brought that up in the hearing. They vehemently denied it.”
“The kids said I shut it off as soon as I could,” Dixon said. He also said he immediately apologized to the class for the obscene language and tried to move on to the next part of his lesson plan.
Dixon said the reason behind the termination was because he showed material to his class that the school’s administration didn’t approve in advance. He said that teachers in the school often show materials to students without approval and reiterated that the gay subject matter of the film was the reason for the investigation.
Dixon said he plans to appeal the Board of Education’s ruling but said he was not familiar with the process. “I’m leaving it up to my lawyer,” he said.
He also said that he’s also been contacted by the American Civil Liberties Union, looking into whether or not the firing was a violation of freedom of speech. The ACLU is now discussing the case with his lawyer.
Needham was also unfamiliar with the appeal process. When asked if he had seen the clip from the film, the school’s principal responded, “I did,” but declined to further comment on the investigation that led to Dixon’s termination.
According to Haralson County School Superintendent Brett Stanton, Dixon has 30 days to appeal the board’s ruling. An appeal would go to the state board of education.
Stanton did not know whether Haralson County High School had a gay/straight alliance, but suggested that the district would not be opposed to such an organization if a teacher or other school official would be willing to sponsor it.
“From my standpoint, as long as there is a sponsor for the student organization, I would be willing to present it to the board,” he said.
Stanton declined to comment on the specifics of the termination due to the personnel matter. He did not know whether or not Dixon had planned an appeal.
“This is not what I expected,” Dixon said. “If I get an [job] offer, I have to take it for my family. We’re in pretty dire straights.”
“The superintendent wanted me out,” he said.
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