Ultimatum

Ozark School District Retaliation Against JROTC

Read the story of how the Major was forced from his position by the Ozark, MO School District. 

Ultimatum

After the disheartening “interview” where the administrators demonstrated they clearly had already drawn conclusions without any input, it was still unthinkable that, two weeks later, the District would present two options, both of which ended the phenomenal success I’d enjoyed in my 8-year teaching career at Ozark. In the six weeks since the beginning of this assault, the District had finally grown confident enough to overtly pressure me…

At his invitation, I met with Dr. Craig Carson, the Assistant Superintendent of Learning, on Friday, January 21. I asked Marca Hayter, our local Missouri State Teacher’s Association service coordinator, to accompany me to this meeting. The purpose of the meeting turned out to be to invite me to resign in lieu of firing. Dr. Carson presented two options:

  • Resign effective the end of the semester. Do not resume any teaching duties but still receive full pay and benefits through the end of the semester. Leave Ozark School District with an unblemished record to seek a new teaching position elsewhere.
  • Receive a Notice of Deficiency, the final warning before being fired. I could then be fired without further notice anytime after 30 days from receiving that notice. Dr. Carson explained that in his 18 years of working at the District level, no one had recovered from a Notice of Deficiency. They had all ultimately resigned under the pressure or been fired. (That the District has never succeeded in rehabilitating a teacher after serving a Notice of Deficiency is a pretty damning indictment of either the District’s sincerity or teachers’ collective confidence in the District’s good faith.)
JROTC-cadets-and-Major

“That the District has never succeeded in rehabilitating a teacher after serving a Notice of Deficiency is a pretty damning indictment of either the District’s sincerity or teachers’ collective confidence in the District’s good faith.”

After consulting with my attorney, I decided not to resign, especially since it would have compelled my silence concerning the District’s abuse of authority and would have prohibited me from taking legal action against the school district. Resigning would also facilitate the District’s malicious behavior. And that would be wrong, even if it benefited me at the time.

“Resigning would also facilitate the District’s malicious behavior. And that would be wrong, even if it benefited me at the time.”

At this point, I had already invested a few thousand dollars in attorney representation and was knowingly foregoing many thousand dollars more in pay once the District fires me. In fact, given that my Army JROTC boss had cautioned me to expect to not be permitted to teach JROTC anymore elsewhere either if the District fired me, I was risking forfeiting this profession entirely, along with the pension I have been planning on for my retirement. I share this just to say that this was not a trivial decision. I had a tremendous amount at stake. But what the school district was doing was wrong. And I couldn’t in good conscience facilitate their foul agenda. It would leave me an enabler and thus complicit in the further harm that will surely continue to other Ozark schools’ staff as long as its present leadership remains unrestrained.

“I had a tremendous amount at stake. But what the school district was doing was wrong. And I couldn’t in good conscience facilitate their foul agenda. It would leave me an enabler and thus complicit in the further harm that will surely continue to other Ozark schools’ staff as long as its present leadership remains unrestrained.”
“I had a tremendous amount at stake. But what the school district was doing was wrong. And I couldn’t in good conscience facilitate their foul agenda. It would leave me an enabler and thus complicit in the further harm that will surely continue to other Ozark schools’ staff as long as its present leadership remains unrestrained.”

Here is the email I sent to Dr. Carson informing him that I was determined to remain with the Ozark School District.

From: [The Major]
Sent: Wednesday, January 26, 2022 1:12 PM
To: ‘Craig Carson’ <craigcarson@ozarktigers.org>
Subject: Response

Dr. Carson,

Having been part of the Ozark School District and JROTC for seven plus years now, these past few weeks have been a very hard time for me.  I had thought my record with the District and the JROTC program meant something to the administration.  Our meeting Friday was concerning.  You made it clear that the administration desires that I resign, accompanied with the threat of what I should expect to face if I don’t.  I have thought long and hard about what has occurred and our conversation.  I asked questions about the allegations against me which received no explanations of my having engaged in conduct deserving of discipline or even having violated District policy.  I have repeatedly asked that the District policy be identified which I am accused of violating.  When I was finally afforded the opportunity to hear the administration’s stated concerns, I was able to place those concerns in context.  When placed in context and given an honest hearing, the event absolutely does not rise to the level of discipline, let alone resignation.

I love this District and its students, especially my JROTC cadets.  I will not be resigning.  I remain convinced of my previously expressed concern as to the motivation behind what has occurred already and what continues to occur.  I wish that the administration had immediately come to me in good faith, as it normally does with other teachers and even has done with me before.

Again, I will not resign.  It is my intent to move forward with the school district.  I sincerely hope that the administration chooses that we move forward in a positive manner as I so intend.

Respectfully,

[The Major]

At the outset of my meeting with Dr. Carson, he explained that the reasons for putting staff on administrative leave pending investigation are:

1) To protect them against themselves.  Staff members’ talking about the case taints the investigation.  And there is such a strong tendency to talk that it is safest to put staff members on leave pending investigation.

2) To protect them against anyone inside the organization.

He pointed out that when it is paid administrative leave, it should feel like protection to the staff member, not punishment.

As Dr. Carson had indicated I could expect to be given a Notice of Deficiency, which has historically always resulted in either voluntary or involuntary termination, I asked whether my recent conduct would normally be considered grounds for termination, if I wasn’t already on a PIP.  He responded that it generally is not.  He said it is usually a series of events that results in a Notice of Deficiency.  That should have been a clue to me that the District was going to concoct a bunch of additional charges.

“That should have been a clue to me that the District was going to concoct a bunch of additional charges.”

I explained to Dr. Carson that in Mr. Chamber’s interview with me, the problem with the presentation evolved from 1) the images were inappropriate, to 2) the message was inappropriate, to 3) it isn’t my job to teach that message, to finally 4) the curriculum wasn’t approved by the school district. I then pointed out that none of the JROTC curriculum had ever been reviewed by the school district. Dr. Carson acknowledged that the school’s agreement with the Army regarding JROTC includes their accepting the JROTC curriculum. (While this didn’t come up in this discussion, my lesson plan for this class included extensive original content, so it doesn’t automatically qualify as the Army’s approved JROTC curriculum. But since the Army intends for us to heavily supplement their prescribed curriculum, it is not a violation of their curriculum for me to have been teaching it either.) Dr. Carson then explained just a little bit about what curriculum review and approval generally looks like. He noted that curriculum review looks at units or modules more than at individual lessons. It considers the learning objectives, the big ideas, the general outlines. It does not examine the actual material being presented in the classroom.

“Dr. Carson noted that curriculum review looks at units or modules more than at individual lessons. . . . It does not examine the actual material being presented in the classroom.”

I informed Dr. Carson that I still had not been informed what policy I violated.  I asked if he could clarify what I did wrong and what policy it violated.  He did not cite any policy.  He just stated that my presentation was the problem.  He characterized it as misogynistic and claimed that it was directed at women more than at men.  He specifically noted that there were pictures of scantily clothed women in it and a comedy video that was inappropriate.

  • I explained to him, first, that those scantily clothed women were not part of the presentation that was shown and that, second, the two slides that depict these ladies contain quotes from them lamenting having sexualized themselves.  I further put the comedy sketch in context for him.  It contains slaves transitioning from resenting their servitude to prizing themselves on how well they can be exploited.  It was preceded by another slide suggesting how confused it would seem for someone to prize themselves for their potential to taste good when roasted and eaten by cannibals.  Those two slides illustrate, in very stark terms, how inappropriate it is to objectify ourselves.  They are then followed by another slide relating a true story of an Army lieutenant doing just that.  The story is compelling especially because the previous two slides help make clear how inconsistent this is with our real value.
  • As Dr. Carson had explained at the outset that administrative leave during an investigation is appropriate to preserve the integrity of the investigation, I now pointed out how soliciting the slides under false pretenses via a colleague had already tainted the investigation.  I pointed out that sharing around a slide packet and saying, in essence, “there is something wrong with this presentation, now go and find it” had likewise tainted the investigation.  I pointed out how their continuing to target as problematic slides that were not part of my presentation to students had most certainly tainted their investigation.  He offered no response.

I again requested to give presentation in front of audience of administrators so that they could judge fairly what message I had conveyed to students.  He declined to accept that offer.

“I again requested to give presentation in front of audience of administrators so that they could judge fairly what message I had conveyed to students. He declined to accept that offer.”

Dr. Carson alleged that a complaint had been raised against this presentation before.  It turns out the complaint he was alluding to was raised over a similarly themed presentation I offered in a colleague’s class (which he sat in on and then invited me to teach again afterwards) several years ago.  I was invited to turn over my lesson materials to the assistant principal (one who has since relocated jobs).  She reviewed them and shared them with the principal who then invited me in to discuss them as well.  His final verdict was that I was fine to keep teaching it.  Still, I substantially revised the presentation afterwards with great care taken toward ensuring that it was largely uncontroversial.

Six Observations:

  1. While Dr. Carson stopped short of guaranteeing that I would receive a Notice of Deficiency, shortly thereafter followed by a Statement of Charges (termination notice), it was predicted throughout the conversation.  And when I summed that up at the end of the conversation as the likely future should I not resign, he confirmed it.  The MSTA representative who accompanied me at the meeting also had that same impression that this is what I had just been forewarned to expect.
  2. This meeting provided additional evidence for my concerns that this was a campaign against me, rather than a good faith investigation into something I taught in class.  It was initially baffling that it had taken the district weeks to interview me about my presentation.  It was troubling that the investigative process did not involve interviewing as witnesses any of the students in the class or colleagues who sat in on the class.  It was perplexing that it was taking them so long to conduct and conclude this investigation.  Several disclosures by Dr. Carson revealed that this was an investigation about me more than about my presentation.  Specifically, it was an inquiry into whether they yet had sufficient grounds to fire me.  Given that, interviewing me or others really wasn’t a priority.  Disclosures included:
  • Dr. Carson referenced their having uncovered a previous allegation about this class.  That was a dismissed concern from five years ago that was surfaced only as the district searched for other evidence against me.  It was also about a very different class presentation on a related subject.  Very little content from that class was included in this one.  Nevertheless, our principal at the time (Dr. Sam Taylor) investigated the complaint and cleared me to proceed with teaching the class.  Instead, I scaled it back to reduce prospects for concern and have since only taught this version of it.  The District’s surfacing this complaint demonstrates both that the district was looking for “dirt” on me and that the district is aware my presentation was previously reviewed and accepted by administrators.
  • Toward the end of the discussion, Dr. Carson confirmed that a Professional Improvement Plan (PIP) is supposed to have a stated duration and steps by which one can return to good standing.  As I noted in my response to my PIP, mine contains neither of these.  Nor does it contain any of the expected elements in a genuine growth plan.  It is simply a written reprimand and ammunition for the school district’s agenda.  There is no legitimacy to it.
  • Dr. Carson indicated that if Mr. Chambers hadn’t already spoken to US Army Cadet Command (the proponent organization that runs JROTC), they intended to do so shortly.  Cadet Command cannot provide them any insight on whether my presentation was appropriate.  All they can comment on is how much latitude I have to supplement the curriculum.  So an investigation into the propriety of the presentation itself wouldn’t include this step.  This step is warranted only when one is looking for something beyond the lesson content to take action against.
  • Dr. Carson’s reference to images in my presentation of women scantily clothed reveals that it was largely pointless that I informed Mr. Chambers and Dr. Brownfield that those slides were not part of my presentation.  They hadn’t bothered to communicate any of that to others involved in this case.  They don’t appear to care.
  • In responding to my pointing out that the school had never reviewed JROTC curriculum, Dr. Carson’s response referenced the fact that the program had been at the high school since 1994 or 1995.  This is a detail he would not likely know off-hand were it not for the fact that the district had began looking for a response to my objection.  That is, they were determined to override my objection.

The “grab bag” of allegations that comprise my PIP bore fair evidence to this already. This interview simply provided more independent confirmation of that evidence.

  1. I have three times now asked what policy I have violated (14 December email to Dr. Bauman, 10 January meeting with Mr. Chambers, 21 January meeting with Dr. Carson).  I have not received an answer to any of those inquiries.
  1. I have three times now (7 December to Dr. Brownfield, 10 January to Mr. Chambers, 21 January to Dr. Carson) requested to present in its entirety to whatever administrators harbor concerns over it the same class I gave to cadets.  They have not shown any interest in my doing so.  They either don’t trust me to share with them the same message I presented to students, or they don’t care what message I actually presented.  They are satisfied that they know as much as they need to know already.
  1. There is a subtle irony at best and incoherence at worst in Dr. Carson’s characterizing my presentation as “anti-female-choice” and “misogynistic.”  He tied that to the two slides depicting females in bikinis or lingerie (which, again, were NOT part of my presentation).  If he claims that it is inappropriate for ladies to put themselves on display that way, then he would seemingly have to join me in being “anti-female-choice.”  If there is nothing wrong with ladies putting themselves on display that way, then the District cannot continue condemning those two slides.

NOTE TO READER:  The two images District officials repeatedly refer to as evidence of the sexism and general impropriety of my presentation depict Kate Upton in a bikini on the beach and Scarlett Johansson seated in fairly conservative lingerie on the side of a bed.  Both of them are sexy images.  And beside each image is a subsequent quote from each of them lamenting the impact that sexualizing themselves has had on them.  That is the very point of their inclusion (even though I haven’t used those two slides in the version of the presentation I have taught for the last several years).

  1. This interaction played out as the “good cop” element of a stereotypical “good cop, bad cop” routine.  Dr. Carson plays the role of the good cop.  But the routine only works because the good cop is in league with bad cop.  Dr. Carson is not generating the threat.  He is just conveying the threat and inviting me to take the easy way out.  Additionally, a “good cop” can only be considered “good” by the accused when he is helping lessen the threat to one who is guilty.  To one who is innocent, the “good cop” is simply the “less bad” cop.  But by being complicit in an illicit scheme, there are scant grounds for calling him “good.”
“This was an investigation about ME more than about my presentation.”

The District seemed to recognize their bias would be revealed to any fair outside observation. Perhaps that is why they continued to refuse to hold the legally required suspension hearing…

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