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Teacher on leave after comments
District cites policy requiring balanced views in classroom
By Tillie Fong, Rocky Mountain News
March 2, 2006
An Overland High School geography teacher was put on leave Wednesday while Cherry Creek Schools investigates whether he violated district policy that requires balanced viewpoints in the classroom.
Jay Bennish, who teaches 10th grade world geography, is being investigated for making biased, anti-President Bush comments in class during a discussion of the State of the Union speech last month.
“These are serious allegations and we’re very concerned about it,” said Tustin Amole, spokeswoman for Cherry Creek Schools. “This does not reflect the type of teaching that we want to see in Cherry Creek school district.”
Bennish could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
On Feb. 1, Bennish, who has been at Overland High School since the fall of 2000, had a discussion in his class about the State of the Union address.
Sean Allen, a student in the class, taped the discussion, in which Bennish made a number of unfavorable comments about Bush that upset Allen’s father.
“He said that some people may compare (Bush) to Hitler,” Amole said.
The school district did not learn about Bennish’s lecture until last Wednesday, when it received an e-mail about it from an out-of-state person who had seen an online column on it written by Walter Williams on www.townhall.com, Amole said. That same day, Allen’s father also called the principal of Overland High School to complain about the teacher, and the complaint was forwarded to the district, which began its investigation.
“After listening to the tape, it’s evident the comments in the class were inappropriate,” Amole said. “There were not adequate opportunities for opposing points of view.”
Allen’s father apparently gave a copy of the taped discussion to KOA radio host Mike Rosen, who did a show on the subject Wednesday.
Since then, a number of parents have called the school about Bennish’s remarks, both in support and in opposition.
Amole said that Bennish told school officials he had received threats as a result of the controversy.
Amole said that the ensuing brouhaha over Bennish’s lecture has become disruptive to the school, which led to Bennish’s being put on leave Wednesday.
“We felt it was better for all concerned if he was out of class,” she said. “This is not a punishment at this point.”
In the meantime, the district is investigating whether Bennish violated its policy on teaching about controversial and sensitive subjects, and has reminded teachers about the policy. “We do want teachers to express their opinions, but to put that in context and to provide opposing points of view,” Amole said. “All discussion must be fair and balanced.”
District officials have been talking to Bennish and his students as part of the investigation.
“We want to find out all the facts, what other students have to say about it, whether there have been other incidents,” Amole said.
Amole said the district hopes to complete its investigation of Bennish this week.
Apparently, this is not the first time he has been in hot water over comments made in class, according to Amole.
A few years ago, another student complained about remarks Bennish made in class. In that case, Bennish met with the parent and the school principal, and the issue was resolved without district intervention.
Amole could not provide details Wednesday of the earlier incident, but said the district encourages students and parents to voice their concerns.