These past 2 years have been an exciting time for me as a history and government teacher. My classes have followed the primary and election campaigns. My senior class last year, with the aid of the superintendent Lana Comeaux, was able to travel to Beaumont, TX to see Bill Clinton make a stump speech on behalf of his wife Hillary Clinton. In class we followed the primary campaign using Newsweek magazine and Junior Scholastic magazine to keep us informed about the issues. We had passionate debates about the issues and the candidates. It was obvious to my class that I supported Barack Obama. I allowed all students to express their opinions, as long as they did not include racial slurs or non-factual information. On occasion, I had to correct misinformation that was expressed by students. For example, that Barack Obama was un-American, that he did not say the pledge, and that he was a terrorist. After Barack Obama's election, I was looking forward to being able to share the inauguration with my students by letting them watch it on TV in my classroom. But instead, I found myself at home suspended from my job.
On November 7th, at a basketball game that was supposed to be our homecoming scrimmage, I sat at the scores table as a coach with Lana Comeaux, the superintendent. I was not allowed to coach because we would be in violation of UIL rules. Lana Comeaux at that time told me she was under pressure from the school board and they were looking for her to resign. She said that my name was also on the list of people that the board wanted to resign or fire. I asked why, and she said that a school board member had expressed to her that he believed I was an atheist and a liberal. She asked me if I was an atheist and I refused to answer the question. I said, "I won't play this game. I didn't know you had to take a religious test to be a teacher in the state of Texas." Nothing was said after that point, although there was a lot of tension among the other coaches about whether they would be able to keep their jobs or not, because she also told them that many of them were on the list.
Then on January 7th, a student in my classroom in second period left my class, went to the Principal's office, and told him that there was an inappropriate discussion in my classroom. I was informed by the principal, Richard Turner, that I needed to talk to her mother because she was very upset. Her mother came to class on January 7th, came to the school January 7th, very upset. She made some threats to me in the hallway. And then on January 8th, Mr. Turner informed me that I needed to call the parent, Mrs. Lowe. On January 9th, I had Vicki Smith, the school secretary, call "REDACTED" on my behalf to arrange a conference at 10:35 Monday, January 12th. Monday the 12th, I met with REDACTED and School Principal Richard Turner in his office. REDACTED was very angry. She accused me of being an atheist, saying I was too liberal, and that I allowed the students to talk about inappropriate things in the classroom. I told her that occasionally students would get on topics and say things, but I was unable to censor them before they were able to say them. She said that I called her daughter a name and I denied the accusation. But then she said that I didn't believe in god and shouldn't be teaching. She also said that she had spoken to 3 other board members who agreed with her that I shouldn't be teaching because I was too liberal and I was an atheist.
On January 15th, there was a board meeting. Nothing was on the agenda concerning me. During the open forum, several audience members spoke to their concerns that I was an atheist and I was too liberal. On January 16th, I was called to Mr. Richard Turner's office (my principal), and he informed me that I had been put on administrative leave with pay. The reasons, as stated to me by Mr. Turner at the time, were that I was accused of being an atheist and teaching atheism in the classroom, and I was too liberal. On January 23rd, Mr. Turner and members of the board met behind closed doors concerning my suspension and allegations that were directed at me. On January 24th, I received a certified letter from Mr. Turner that stated that the causes for my suspension apparently had been changed to inappropriate contact with students and comments. He admonished me in the letter for having contact with students who had text-messaged me during my first week of suspension, but I had not received any administrative directive, or anything in writing, prior to that time telling me I could not have contact with students. On January 26th, I called my lawyer REDACTED, with ATTE, and informed him of my situation that I was put on administrative leave with pay, pending an investigation.
Richard Turner, the high school's principal, said parents had voiced concerns about Mullens' classroom management.
These parents told school board members at a January board meeting that Mullens ran his classes too loosely and allowed students to discuss inappropriate topics, Turner said by phone Thursday.
Mullens said the district and parents singled him out because of his religious and political views, which are in the minority.
"I teach in a very open classroom, (that) I love and like," Mullens said by phone. "And the kids learn that way through open discussion and debate."
You know what I find really ironic about this type of thing? Yesterday I was listening to the Texas State Board of Education's members deciding whether to keep the *strengths and weaknesss" language in for the science TEKS. Several of the board members, who also are creationists, were all for academic freedom and allowing children to question, speak out, participate, etc. Maybe that's only when it comes to classes where the teachers are already politically and religiously *vetted* by the district.
Mullens said he made a habit of keeping a very open classroom, allowing students to discuss controversial issues.
"I like to get the kids interested," he said. "I like to get all viewpoints."
Students would discuss issues like the separation of church and state and the presidential election, he said.
Nicole Ard, a senior at the high school, has been a student of Mullens' for five years. Ard, who is senior class president, said discussion often got heated, "but they were just debates."
"Mostly people were upset because he supported Barack Obama, whereas a lot of people in Brookeland were against (Obama)," said Ard, 18.
She said Mullens would often play the devil's advocate in discussions, but he never pushed his viewpoints on students.
"I think it was more trying to get people to look at different viewpoints," she said.
Mullens said in his six years at the school, he has never received a complaint from a parent or administrator. Turner, who is in his second year as principal, said that Mullens file has no record of infractions.
3 - Tim Flagler
6 Feb 2009 @ 6:36:44 PM
Perhaps the teacher should have directed the students in a more structured manner like having them write essays based on information from controversial issue websites like www.procon.org.
Kids need to learn critical thinking skills and school is a great place to be exposed to ideas and practices that are otherwise foreign. That's what learning is.
5 - frack
30 Mar 2009 @ 6:05:01 PM
I am a student a brookeland ISD and Mr.Richard Mullens was my U.S. History teacher....Mr.Mullens allowed us to speak are minds unlike all of the rest of the teachers. Mr.Mullens DID NOT allow us to talk about in inappropriate topics in his classroom ,and if we did get on the topic of inappropriate discussion he would quickly tell us not to talk about that anymore in his classroom. It is unfair to Mr.Mullen and the rest of the people that have his belifes that some of the people in Brookeland Texas are so iggnorent. I support Mr.Richard Mullens.
SEPARATE CHURCH FROM SCHOOL!