When Teachers Destroy Education

IntroductionIf you live in Lake County, you might have heard of a man named Jerry Buell. If you don't, you probably haven't. So let's get you up to speed.

This is Jerry Buell. He was named Teacher of the Year by Mount Dora High School, in Lake County, Florida. Before we go too much farther, it's important to make this note: Mount Dora is a public high school. It is strange, then, that in Mount Dora literature about their teachers of the year, Buell describes himself as if "LCS [Lake County Schools] hired Jesus Christ Himself."

Okay, that's a little weird. But the man is entitled to his religious beliefs, even if he's got a bit of a narcissistic way of interpreting them. If he thinks he's Jesus but Mount Dora thinks he's a great teacher, who are we to question the judgment of the professional educators who selected him as a Teacher of the Year? They wouldn't have picked him if he was a fanatically religious extremist, right?

What if they didn't know he was a fanatically religious extremist?

Religious FanatacismWhile other Lake County Teachers of the Year said things like "Every student can learn," and "I want to...ensure that all students and teachers are successful," Jerry Buell declared "The classroom is my mission field," and that he teaches with the "discipline that Jesus would." Remember, this is a public school, not a parochial school. On the first page of the syllabus Buell distributes to his students, he states:

I am a man of God and I try to be like Jesus every day. I teach God's truth, I make very few compromises. If you believe you may have a problem with that, get your schedule changed, 'cause I ain't changing!

That inappropriate little gem shows up in the "Misc." section of his United States History/Honors syllabus after he informs students that 3 points will be deducted from their grade if they should have to use the bathroom. (How Christ-like.) His official school webpage is filled with similar religious mumbo-jumbo.

So, okay, we've established that he's a control freak with some odd delusions of grandeur. Jerry Buell was a police officer for five years, so that might have a little bit to do with it. The irony of the fact that he's a US History teacher who can't seem to stay behind the line separating church and state is not lost on Dan Parnell, but just because Buell uses his school webpage to describe himself "first and foremost" as a "man of God" who is "connected to the Creator of the Universe," doesn't necessarily mean he's a bad teacher, just a quirky one. Sometimes quirky teachers are the ones with the most talent.

Sometimes. Jerry Buell is not one of those times.

A History of HateRemember, back at the beginning of the summer, when New York put an end to marriage discrimination, and granted full marriage equality to all couples? Remember when New York, by leading the nation in civil liberties, made regressive Republicans weep in dismay? In case you forgot, recall Brian Brown (pictured at right) crying his eyes out in grief in the New York State Senate after it put an end to hatred and discrimination. We can pity Brian Brown. He's so wrapped up in his hatred that he is shaken to his core when a state government has the good grace to end institutionalized discrimination and bigotry. Though he's president of NOM, recognized by the SPLC as a Christian Hate Group, it's clear Brown's influence is fading, and soon we will be able to relegate him and those like him to an historical footnote.

Jerry Buell didn't cry. He threw up in disgust. On July 25th, he was watching the news while eating dinner, and a story about marriage equality in New York came on, which included a photograph of two men kissing at their marriage ceremony. This is apparently sufficiently revolting to Buell to give him difficulty holding down his dinner. Enraged by this public display of equality, Buell took to Facebook, on which he is "friends" with several of his students, to lament his marriage being insulted by having been thrown in "the same cesspool as same-sex whatever!" He wonders: "When did this sin become acceptable??? [sic]" and describes to everyone how gay people make his esophagus work in reverse.

Being a public figure, and having posted this hateful filth publicly, a rather lengthy discussion ensued on Buell's Facebook page, with students, alumni, friends, and family going round and round. Buell stands by his original declaration of disgust, unintelligibly invokes Jerry Springer, and calls homosexuality "it," (quotes his) as if he lives in the land of Harry Potter and gays are Voldemort: so evil and detestable that they can't even be mentioned by name. He declares that those who disagree with his bigoted stance should remove him from their list of friends on Facebook, remarking: "I'll miss you like I miss my kidney stone from 1994."

Alright, now we know he's a religious maniac with delusions of grandeur and that he's also a hateful and bigoted jerk. These are the kinds of things that it might have been good for Lake County to find out before hiring Jesus Buell, but it's still not quite reasonable for us to expect Lake County to fire him on the grounds of having a disagreeable personality. His public outbursts are inappropriate, and his proselytizing is misguided, but up until this point we haven't seen how all this impacts the quality of the education he is charged with providing.

Down, down, down the rabbit hole we go.

Impact on TeachingWhen one of Buell's current students for the 2011-2012 school year got involved in the Facebook kerfuffle, Buell stated bluntly: "Believe me we WON'T be discussing this...," the ellipsis his. In other words: Buell will not teach LGBT history in his US History class because he does not like LGBT people. In fact, he doesn't just not like LGBT people. In defense of his assault on equality, Buell twice cited the Epistle to the Romans, which states that gay people deserve death. Buell even goes farther to suggest that heterosexual LGBT allies should share the same fate.

In front of his students, Buell is stating that he will carve chunks of history out of his syllabus because of his personal hatred and bigotry, and that LGBT teenagers—who, on top of struggling with adolescence, also are burdened with figuring out their sexuality—deserve death.

At a time when suicide among LGBT youth is a national epidemic, Jerry Buell is still teaching students in his classroom. Lake County made him yank the overtly religious overtones out of his syllabus and off his website, gave him a slap on the wrist, and then stuck him right back in charge of a classroom full of young people, some of whom are undoubtedly gay. And Buell hasn't apologized, he's doubled down, telling a former student that he supports allowing gays into the military, so that they can be placed on the front lines while everyone else pulls back.

That's right. A still-employed public school teacher supports the mass murder of homosexuals. One wonders if he gets a wistful gaze in his eyes as he recounts the extermination of homosexuals during the Holocaust under Hitler. One wonders if he mentions that homosexuals were victims of the Holocaust at all.

Public school teachers are supposed to educate our children, not kill them. Jerry Buell is a danger to his students both as individuals and as a group. He threatens the mental and physical well-being of LGBT students, and he damages the quality of education received by every student passing through his classroom, undermining entire generations of young Americans as they pick up on the hatred he preaches and miss out on the history he doesn't.

We have a duty and responsibility as American citizens to protect our youth from dangerous men like Jerry Buell. He doesn't belong in the classroom and Lake County knows it. After this story first broke, the county suspended him. But after the well-funded and ultra-conservative Liberty Counsel threatened to sue, Lake County caved and stuck this horrifying man and terrible teacher back in front of a classroom full of students.

Well, we can do that too. It is the position of the Parnell campaign that Jerry Buell represents all that is wrong with public education in America, and that he is a clear and present danger to students in his classroom. Jerry Buell must resign or be removed from that classroom before a vulnerable gay student is pushed over the edge to suicide, like so many others before.

A Call to ActionDan Parnell has prepared a statement to be delivered to Laurie Marshall, Executive Director of Human Resources and Employee Relations at Lake County Public Schools, to be copied to the Lake County Board of Education, the Superintendent of Schools, the Florida ACLU, the FRFF, and the Florida Department of Education regarding Jerry Buell. Lake County students and parents, Florida residents, and concerned Americans across the nation are encouraged to add their name and sentiments to the statement, below, which will remain open for signatures and comment through Friday, September 23, and be delivered on Monday, September 26.

Mzs. Marshall, Stivender, Brandeburg, Moxley, Cole, et. al:

As you are no doubt aware, national attention was attracted to the controversy that erupted in mid-August surrounding Mr. Jerry Buell, a history teacher at Mount Dora High School in Lake County. His homophobic remarks on his public Facebook account, subsequent inappropriate remarks to students both past and current, infusion of religious proselytization with classroom materials, refusal to teach relevant historical subjects, and total failure to accept responsibility for his actions represent clear and egregious violations of the Code of Ethics established by the Office of Professional Practices in the Florida Department of Education.

Of note, section 6B-1.001, paragraph 1, authorized by FS229.053(1) and FS231.546(2) and implemented by FS239.546(2)(b), formerly 6B-1.01, as amended 7-6-82, 8-12-81, as repromulgated 12-5-74 following amendment 8-9-69 as originally enacted 3-24-65, states, in part:

The educator values the worth and dignity of every person.

Further, paragraph 2 of the aforementioned code requires:

The educator's primary professional concern will always be for the student and for the development of the student's potential.

Finally, paragraph 3 stresses:

...the importance of maintaining the respect and confidence of one's colleagues, of students, of parents, and of other members of the community.

This code of ethics is complimented by section 6B-1.006, paragraph 3 subparagraph (a), authorized by FS229.053(1) and FS231.546(2)(b) and implemented by FS231.546(2) and FS 231.28, formerly 6B-1.06, as amended 12-29-98, 8-10-92, and 12-20-83, as originally enacted 7-6-82, which describes a teacher's obligations to students, which include, in part:

Obligation to the student requires that the individual...protect the student from conditions harmful to learning and/or to the student's mental and/or physical health and/or safety

Additionally, subparagraphs (c) and (d) of the same section state that teachers:

Shall not unreasonably deny a student access to diverse points of view; shall not intentionally suppress or distort subject matter relevant to a student's academic program

Further, subparagraphs (e) and (g) of the same section require that teachers:

Shall not intentionally expose a student to unnecessary embarrassment or disparagement; shall not harass or discriminate against any student on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, national or ethnic origin, political beliefs, marital status, handicapping condition, sexual orientation, or social and family background and shall make reasonable effort to assure that each student is protected from harassment or discrimination.

Similarly, paragraph 4 of the same section, which outlines a teacher's responsibility to the public, requires in subparagraph (a) that:

...the individual shall take reasonable precautions to distinguish between personal views and those of any educational institution or organization with which the individual is affiliated.

Likewise, paragraph 5 of the same section, which outlines a teacher's responsibility to the profession, demands in subparagraph (d) that:

...the individual shall not engage in harassment or discriminatory conduct which unreasonably interferes with...the orderly processes of education or which creates a hostile, intimidating, abusive, or oppressive environment...

Penalties for failure to comply with these principles of professional conduct is addressed by paragraph 2 of the same section:

Violation of any of these principles shall subject the individual to revocation or suspension of the individual educator's certificate, or the other penalties as provided by law.

As the above excerpts make abundantly clear, the Department of Education has clearly established a Code of Ethics and Principles of Professional Conduct that protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered students from discrimination and intimidation by teachers, and make no allowance for teachers to alter classroom materials to omit discussion of topics relevant to the student's education.

The statements of and actions by Mr. Jerry Buell are irreconcilable with DOE policy. On July 25, at 5:43 PM, Buell posted the following statement on a publicly-accessible website frequented by Mount Dora students, alumni, and parents:

I'm watching the news, eating dinner, when the story about New York okaying same sex unions came on and I almost threw up. And now they showed two guys kissing after their announcement[...]don't insult a man and woman's marriage by throwing it in the same cesspool as same-sex whatever! God will not be mocked. When did this sin become acceptable??? [sic]

Five minutes later, Buell elaborated in a follow-up statement:

I will never accept it and refuse to condone it or shut my eyes to it. It is an insult to the marriage between my wife and I. We are married, don't [sic] know what the heck those people call it but it ain't [sic] a marriage.

For several hours, various members of the public, including alumni of Buell's history class, expressed varying amounts of support and dismay at Buell's statement. Responding to the controversy at 10:20 PM that same night, Buell remarked:

If "it" has become so acceptable in this day and age, why does it draw so much attention? God loves us ALL[...b]ut He will not tolerate our actions forever. He hates sin, no matter the lable [sic] or degree. There are some things He calls abominations and "it" is one of them.

The comment thread continued on for more than a day with no additional comments by Buell, though at least one current student for the 2011-2012 academic year at Mount Dora participated. Perhaps noticing that he had opened a can of worms, Buell tried to preempt a backlash with yet another statement, at 5:46 PM on July 25:

[By the way,] if one doesn't like the most recently posted opinion [about marriage equality in New York], based on Biblical principles and God's law, then go ahead and un-friend [hide posts by] me. I'll miss you like I miss my kidney stone from 1994. And I will never accept it because God will never accept it. Romans Chapter 1...

In reply to this, a 17-year-old student enrolled in Buell's class for the 2011-2012 academic year made a comment, to which Buell replied:

Believe me we WON'T be discussing this...

These comments clearly violate non-discrimination provisions in DOE policies. There is absolutely no doubt that LGBT students enrolled in Buell's class will feel threatened, intimidated, and oppressed by Buell's public position on homosexuality (including, as detailed in the Epistle to the Romans cited by Buell, the prescribed punishment of death for homosexuals). Buell further states that he will refuse to teach any part of LGBT history because of his personal problem with gay people. Buell's public statements violate each and every one of the quoted sections of the DOE Code of Ethics and DOE Principles of Professional Conduct above.

On August 17, 2011, Lake County Schools took the appropriate action in suspending Jerry Buell and prohibiting him from entering the Mount Dora campus, pending a full investigation. However, this investigation was halted two days later by the threat of legal action by a right-wing activist group named Liberty Counsel. Ultimately, bowing to pressure from loud extremists and wishing to avoid costly litigation, Lake County reinstated Buell, and he is currently back in the classroom teaching his students, having been forced only to remove the overt proselytization from his class syllabus and school website.

This reinstatement was grossly inappropriate. In a day and age where suicides by LGBT youth have become a national epidemic, to place a man who advocates death for homosexuals in charge of a classroom filled with impressionable and vulnerable adolescents is not just irresponsible, it is dangerous to the lives and well-being of the students. Children should be able to trust their teachers implicitly, but Buell has, with his public actions, utterly destroyed that trust.

To allow Buell to continue teaching places the lives of Mount Dora students in danger. Buell has demonstrated, by obstinately refusing to back down and instead holding a rally, that his anti-gay beliefs pervade every minute of his life and cannot be separated from his pedagogical responsibilities. Lake County must immediately remove Jerry Buell from his classroom, on unpaid administrative leave as provided by law, pending termination by the County or resignation by Buell. There is no other acceptable alternative or compromise.

I am Dan Parnell, candidate for the United States House of Representatives, speaking on behalf of all the undersigned students, alumni, parents, neighbors, and citizens, and in consideration for the safety of the students and the standards for teachers established by the Department of Education, demand the immediate and unconditional resignation or termination of Gerard "Jerry" Buell, teacher of United States History at Mount Dora High School, part of Lake County Schools.

You are advised that noncompliance exposes Lake County Schools to significant civil liability, and may result in investigations at both the state and federal level.

Your prompt action is appreciated.

Sincerely,

Dan Parnell
Candidate for United States House of Representatives
On Behalf Of:

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