State News

Cumberland teacher gets reprimand for political comments

Posted November 30, 2008 1:51 p.m. EST
Updated December 1, 2008 9:52 a.m. EST

— A Fayetteville teacher whose classroom comments about John McCain drew the ire of viewers who saw the remarks on YouTube says she has received a disciplinary letter.

The Fayetteville Observer reports that Diatha Harris also said an internal investigation cleared her of violating state law or Cumberland County Board of Education policy.

In May, a Scandinavian film crew captured Harris leading a classroom discussion about the presidential election among her fifth-graders at McArthur Elementary School.

The video aired in a documentary on Finnish television in November, and portions were posted on YouTube. Superintendent Bill Harrison was deluged with phone calls for Harris to be fired.

The video shows that 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.

Harris said the comments on the video were taken out of context and edited to make her look bad, but she apologized to the student and her parents.

"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 in an interview with WRAL News when the video broke on YouTube.

A second Cumberland County teacher, Melissa Smith, was also being investigated after a parent complained she made disparaging comments about Barack Obama to students at Mac Williams Middle School. A decision had not been reached in that case.