by Max Brantley
I am in my 30th year of teaching in Arkansas. I was first hired in 1985 to begin my teaching career. I have always been proud to teach and be a part of the community anywhere I have been including Kingston HS, Newport HS, Mountain Pine HS, Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock, and now Little Rock Central HS. However, in October of 2013 I was fired from my teaching job for legally marrying my partner of then 14 years in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I know from experience that this can and does happen. I was lucky that the Pulaski County Special School District stepped up and immediately hired me and then at semester that year, Principal Nancy Rousseau called and asked me to interview at Central High School where I now proudly teach. I am also proud to say that the Little Rock School District has a policy ….
I encourage you to leave no doubt that Bentonville School District will not tolerate outright discrimination or the possible perception of discrimination in any form of any employee of your school district. Please make a choice to be proactive in your leadership and to send the message that in Arkansas we treat our employees equally and respectfully. This is so important especially since we are responsible for educating our future leaders.
It simply can never be detrimental to choose to not discriminate.
Focusing on school board member powers and responsibilities as well as ethical obligations is important to understanding the gravity of Ms. Powers’ actions. ... Board members shall be nonpartisan in dealing with school district matters and they shall place the interest of the students ahead of partisan principle, group interest, or personal self-interest.
....Ms. Powers explicitly, and wrongly, identified the student as an atheist and as a student who was reprimanded. Why would a school board member, an elected official, discuss and disparage a student’s background or belief system, or in other words, the “perceived or actual attributes” of the student? Does her comment make atheists or non-believers feel welcome? Does it make someone who does not have her same beliefs feel welcome? Does it make a student who may have been reprimanded by school officials feel comfortable that their private information and identities are safe with school officials and administrators? Is Ms. Powers fulfilling her ethical duty to have in the “best interest of each and every one of these young people without distinction as to who they are or what their background may be”? Ms. Powers must surely recognize that she is in a position of power over the administration, faculty, and students.
To ensure that a board member does not use his or her standing as a school board member to impose upon the administration, faculty, and students, a provision concerning this issue has been written into the policies and procedures manual. It is vitally important to recognize that for any person with authority or input into any employment decisions, any express statement that suggests prejudice based on a suspect class (in this case, derision towards an individual’s perceived religious beliefs) would be strong e
vidence that that person would be subjectively motivated by unlawful prejudice.