Teacher in trouble for wearing Obama shirt to school

It’s time once again for something out of the ‘I swear I’m not making this up’ file.

Dennis Yuzenas

Dennis Yuzenas

Bak Middle School of the Arts is located in West Palm Beach, Florida. Elizabeth Kennedy is the principal of the school and was watching the school news on November 7th (after the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president) and saw that Dennis Yuzenas, an American history teacher, was wearing an Obama T-shirt and ‘said “It’s a good day to be an American,” or words to that effect.’

Someone call the cops. We have a live one here.

Kennedy cited Yuzenas for ‘engaging in unethical political activity’ and wanted to have him sign a memorandum that would be placed in his file. Yuzenas refused to sign this memo.

What I find interesting is that this was AFTER the election.

“Last Friday, November 7, you wore a T-shirt that clearly showed which candidate you supported during the recent Presidential Election and appeared with students on the in-school news broadcast sharing your positive view regarding the outcome of the election,” the memo read.

“As per the Code of Ethics and the above state School Board policy, students may not know your political view,” it continued. “This could be construed as using your position to influence others. It is my expectation, that in the future as you teach students to clarify and express their own political views, you will remain neutral.”

That’s strange because I knew the political view of each of my Social Studies teachers. That didn’t mean I didn’t learn contrasting points of view. It’s just that good teachers bring passion.

Yuzenas was flabbergasted. He said he did his best to remain apolitical during the campaign.

“I am very liberal, I admit that, but I was trying to be ultra, ultra fair,” he said. “My car has a “Republicans for Obama” bumper sticker and peace sign on it, so I parked it in a place where the kids couldn’t see it.”

His remark on the news, he said, was one of patriotism in support of the new president-elect. Another teacher had jokingly referred to the school as the “Barack Middle School of the Arts” on the same broadcast.

As for the T-shirt, Yuzenas said it was part of his lesson plan that day.

“I was talking about the role of art in society,” he said, “and tying in this T-shirt to Picasso’s Guernica.”

The shirt, which showed a red-and-blue image of Obama with the word “Hope” under it, is the work of Shepard Fairey, an obscure Los Angeles street artist. The image, which Fairey made into 300 posters, caught the attention of the Obama campaign, which liked it so much that the image was mass produced, becoming an iconic image of Obama.

“It’s making education relevant to kids,” Yuzenas said. “How much more relevant can you get in an arts school than talking about the role of an artist in an election?”

Kennedy does make a strong argument for keeping a teacher’s political views quiet.

Kennedy, in her third year at Bak, said that the popularity of Yuzenas, one of the founding teachers of the arts magnet school, makes it even more important for him to keep his political views to himself.

“The kids could go home and say, ‘We know who Mr. Y voted for,’ ” she said.

Kennedy said she thought it would be OK for a teacher to wear a T-shirt showing the sitting president, but not the president-elect right after an election where the Florida vote was relatively close.

“We’re not here to offend anyone,” she said. “We’re here to educate. Forty-nine percent of the people voted the other way in the election.”

I suspect that Kennedy was the one offended. But was Mr. Y engaging in ‘unethical political activity’?

Yuzenas said he didn’t sign the principal’s memo because he’s not in violation of the ethics policy.

School Board Policy 2.59 allows teachers to express their own “political, social and religious values” if the “total presentations is essentially balanced and fair.”

Teachers are expressly prohibited from allowing their interaction with students to further their own “political aims or views.”

Yuzenas pointed out if he’s a propagandist, he must be a lousy one, because his students showed the strongest support for John McCain during a school-wide mock election.

“I don’t want students to think like I do,” he said. “I want them to think.”

So one teacher called Bak Middle School of the Arts – Barack Middle School of the Arts. So I bring to you the school formerly known as Ludlum Elementary School in the Hempstead Union Free School District near New York City. The school board voted unanimously to rename the school Barack Obama Elementary School, effective immediately.

This particular article, however, starts with the prepositional phrase – ‘At the behest of its students . . . ‘

Really?

The school board voted to change the name of the school because of 5-11 year olds? I was worried letting my kids pick out colors for their rooms.

If you figured this was just the beginning of schools, parks, streets, landmarks being named for Barack Obama, you would be absolutely correct.

Officials for the Long Island district say they think the school is the country’s first to be named after the first black president-elect, although similar efforts to rename schools, parks and streets are under way elsewhere.

The Clear Stream Avenue School in Valley Stream, N.Y., also on Long Island, will consider a renaming resolution in December. Students at the Clark K-8 At Binnsmead school in Portland, Ore., are seeking to rename it after Obama. And the prime minister of the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda has said he wants its Boggy Peak renamed Mount Obama.

Most of the 466 Hempstead pupils are black or Hispanic, and Obama’s election was a big source of pride, principal Jean Bligen said Friday.

Some of the children read essays about Obama and the election at the school board meeting on Thursday night. “That really was effective,” Bligen said.

The change will be formalized at a ceremony in December. School officials hope Gov. David Paterson, the state’s first black governor and Hempstead High School graduate, will attend.

Built in the 1920s, the Ludlum Elementary School was named after Dr. Charles Ludlum, a local physician who served on the school board for about 40 years.

He’s not even sworn in yet and the honor of the namings has already begun.

Anybody been to the George W. Bush Sewage Treatment Plant lately?

Sources:

Obama T-shirt earns middle school teacher a trip to principal’s office

New York elementary school is renamed for Obama

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9 responses to “Teacher in trouble for wearing Obama shirt to school

  1. If: — School Board Policy 2.59 allows teachers to express their own “political, social and religious values” if the “total presentations is essentially balanced and fair.” — yet this teacher only wears one candidate and is seen in documented media espousing his happiness for one candidate’s victory, then this is a violation. I can’t see how he was balanced and fair. My guess is that this was the last straw, and verifiable evidence for this guy from previous unprovable violations of the policy, and he was stupid enough to get nailed. These teachers are supposed to keep their opinions to themselves, and teach facts, and if they present one side of an opinion, they must equally represent the other. As evidenced by his own bumper stickers, and interviews alone, he is not presenting things in a fair light.

  2. According to the principal, it is fine to wear a T-shirt of the sitting president. I assume a Lincoln, Kennedy, Reagan or Clinton shirt would also be fine. Then why not the future president? Why not a sitting United States Senator (he hadn’t resigned yet)?

    I would agree, if this was BEFORE the election but AFTER? Would a teacher wearing a John McCain or Sarah Palin T-shirt receive the same ridicule? After the election, I don’t see an issue.

    How do you know that his comment wasn’t referring to the fact that America had come so far that we were able to elect a black president? Of course, from the one moment in time, we can not determine fairness but this teacher uses current events to teach. As a history teacher, every 4 years he is given a great topic for discussion and this year was even better. Hillary Clinton was running to become the first woman president, Obama the first black president, McCain the oldest president and Palin the first woman vice president. And it wasn’t that long ago where 3 of these 4 would not have been able to vote.

    You are speculating about his ‘last straw’ as well as him not teaching facts. And did you read the blurb about the artist who designed the T-Shirt?

  3. I agree, AFTER the election I don’t see the big deal. You do know in some other southern states, school kids were told they couldn’t say Obama’s name – the day after he was elected! Gimme a break.

    btw, i loved the last 2 lines of your post – A school is already being renamed after Obama and Bush gets a sewage treatment plant. Says it all.

  4. People should just be allowed to express their political views. Now when my philosophy teacher said he’d fight someone in a bar over abortion rights, none of the conservative students got mad a complain to the department. Mainly because we have free speech and the majority of us respect that fact. I say no law or policy broken, kids probably didn’t even give a Palin’s ass about this whole situation so I say just let it be, and let him go.
    Here’s a new t-shirt idea, FREE Dennis, FREE Dennis 🙂

  5. I attend Bak Middle School of the Arts as an 8th grade student.
    I am entirely aware of the fact that my school is as liberal as it gets. But the thing that I find most funny about this article is that every single last one of the teachers, including Mr. Yuzena’s – or Mr. Y as we call him, openly state their opinions in class but god forbid anyone wears a t-shirt! I am also perplexed by the fact that people honestly think that these teachers actually have an affect on ALL of their students minds. I for one have yet to agree on any current events with my History teacher, who was also an public Obama supporter. But Mr. Y is correct. The teachers do throw in their opinions as well as the other side, and we are permitted to counter or side with either one. They in no way force that opinion on us, so why is it considered wrong?

    Well, for one thing our principal is LAME.

  6. Thank you for weighing in. My teachers always encouraged open debate and some would even take an opposing position if no one spoke up. That is how we learn and that is how our minds open.

  7. Christina Barrera

    I invite any and all opinionaters (especially the first comment) to be aware of the fact that they are not entirely informed of this situation in any way. The article on Dennis Yuzenas is a mere three of four paragraphs, and can not give you enough information to be making judgments or assumptions. Dennis Yuzenas is an exceptional, and I mean EXCEPTIONAL, history teacher and most certainly present every and all sides of an argument. Besdies that, the class is an open forum where students are more than invited to interrupt and speak against him. Keep your cynicism to yourself as just because you have experienced terrible crooked teachers doesn’t mean that every once in a while one of them is actually amazing.

  8. Christina,

    Which other candidate’s t-shirt did he wear and espouse excitement for then?

    Teachers can not bring an unbalanced political bias into the classroom. This is simple. Exceptional or not, he was wrong.