Local News

Second teacher investigated for political remarks

Posted November 13, 2008 4:28 p.m. EST
Updated November 13, 2008 10:22 p.m. EST

— Cumberland County Schools are investigating a complaint that a second teacher made partisan political comments in the classroom.

Parent Tenesia Jackson filed a complaint alleging that Melissa Smith, a teacher at Mac Williams Middle School, made disparaging comments about President-elect Barack Obama on Nov. 6, school-system spokeswoman Wanda McPhaul said.

In the complaint, Jackson said that her 11-year-old daughter and other students in Smith's social-studies class had talked about their excitement at Obama's election.

The complaint alleges that Smith told students not to be upset if their parents' tax dollars went to "a 13-year-old girl for an abortion." McPhaul said the complaint also accuses Smith of posing hypothetical questions, including: If you were a waitress, how would feel if your customer gave your tip to a homeless person who had an Obama sign?

Superintendent William Harrison and Principal Donna Hancock are investigating and will take appropriate action, McPhaul said. One parent complained about Smith's comments in class that day.

McPhaul has taught in Cumberland schools for 6½ years.

The school system's policy on political activity stipulates, "Under no circumstances are assemblies, school classes, or students to be used in partisan political activities during the school day."

The school system asked a lawyer to determine what disciplinary action it could take in the case of Mary McArthur Elementary School teacher Diatha Harris, into whose actions officials opened an investigation Nov. 7.

A video filmed by a Scandinavian documentary crew surfaced on YouTube showing Harris saying "Oh Lord" when a fifth-grader said her military parents supported John McCain. Harris 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.

Harris has retained a lawyer to fight to keep her job, McPhaul said. She remained employed by the school system and was still teaching at McArthur on Thursday.