Local News

Teacher's political discussion with students under review

Posted November 7, 2008 11:57 a.m. EST
Updated November 7, 2008 8:53 p.m. EST

— Cumberland County Schools officials expressed shock and disappointment Friday upon learning of an online video in which a local teacher tells a student her father might be deployed for years because the family supported John McCain for president.

A Scandinavian film crew making a documentary last spring on support for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama captured Mary McArthur Elementary School teacher Diatha Harris talking to her fifth-grade students about Obama and McCain.

When student Cathy Thompson said she was backing McCain because her parents were, Harris responded, "Oh Lord." She later called the war in Iraq "senseless" and told the girl that McCain planned to keep U.S. troops in Iraq for 100 years, if necessary.

"That means your daddy could stay in the military for another 100 years," Harris told the girl, who silently bit her lip.

The video, posted on YouTube.com, quickly made the rounds on conservative blogs, with many bloggers calling Harris a child abuser and demanding that she be fired.

Harris, who has taught for 27 years and has been with Cumberland County Schools for four years, said Friday that the comments that appeared on the video were taken out of context and were edited to make her look bad. She said she does regret the comment she made to Cathy.

"I was wrong for saying that. I was truly wrong for saying that, but I would do nothing on this Earth to hurt this child," Harris said, adding that she fears the comment could end her career.

Harris said the video is “only portraying one side of all the events that went on in that classroom” and that she made similar suggestions and comments about Obama.

School district officials learned of the video late Thursday and were investigating the matter to determine if any disciplinary action was warranted, spokeswoman Wanda McPhaul said.

"While neutral discussion of the political process is appropriate, at no time, particularly with elementary students, should a teacher infuse his (or) her political views into the discussion," Superintendent William Harrison said in a statement issued Friday. "Most disconcerting was the military slant that made its way into this discussion. We are a military community, serving over 15,000 military students and their families. We value the sacrifices, not only of the military parents but also those of their families.

"I was particularly disturbed to see the uncomfortable position in which our children were placed due to the inappropriate actions of one of our teachers," he said.

Cathy's mother, Angela Moore, said neither she nor her daughter were upset by Harris' comments.

“I don’t necessarily think she is beating her options onto the students,” Moore said. “That is her opinion just as everyone else.”

Moore said the video is portraying Harris "to be someone she is not.”

Other parents disagreed, saying they were appalled by what they saw on the video.

"She should have come and said, 'It's good for you to vote for McCain. Maybe he will change. Maybe your father won't be over there for so long,'" parent Shante Austin said. "She shouldn't have told that little girl that."