A Missouri substitute teacher claims he was banned from working at a St. Louis area high school after a student reported him for bullying when he thanked those who stood up during the Pledge of Allegiance.
Teacher Jim Furkin expressed appreciation to students for standing for the pledge but at least one student who declined to stand felt inappropriately singled out and complained, according to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Speaking before the Parkway School Board on Wednesday, Nov. 14, Furkin said that he was teaching an English class when the pledge came over the public address system.
Always Some Who Don’t Stand
“So I say, ‘All right, let’s go,’ and we recite the pledge,” he said. “There are always two or three who don’t stand up because it’s not required. So at the end of the pledge I said, ‘Thanks to all of you that participated in that. I’m sure that all of those families who lost loved ones so that we could enjoy the freedoms we have today would appreciate the effort.’”
A student allegedly asked to go to the counselor’s office following Furkin’s comment, The St. Louis Dispatch reported. School officials confronted Furkin in connection with the incident, and reportedly told him the student was “hurt” by his statement.
Furkin said he apologized.
“I said, ‘Oh, I didn’t mean it that way, that wasn’t my intent at all,’” Furkin told the school board.
‘No Longer Welcome’
He said the next day he was “no longer welcome.”
Furkin asked Parkway School Board officials to investigate his dismissal.
“All I did was thank that class for saying the Pledge of Allegiance and now I’m told not to come back in the building anymore,” he told the school board.
“I’d like to know what happened,” Furkin added.
“To me personally, the flag represents freedom, and there’s a lot of price that’s been paid for the freedom we have today,” Furkin said. “That’s all I’m saying to the kids. … Could somebody feel offended by that? I would hope not. But like I said at the (school board) meeting, when you say something, you don’t know how someone else is going to perceive it.”
Video of his comments has been shared widely on social media, with many people expressing anger at the school district.
‘A Pattern of Inappropriate Conduct’
School officials, meanwhile, said in a statement that Furkin had exhibited “a pattern of inappropriate conduct” and that he would not have been dismissed over a single incident relating to the pledge.
“While we cannot share details of individual personnel matters, we would not recommend that a substitute teacher be restricted from a school simply based on a single isolated incident such as this. Several factors, including prior concerns at other schools, would be taken into consideration before making a recommendation.”
Parkway Superintendent Keith Marty said, “There has been an omission of important facts in this case. The truth is, we recommended that this substitute not return due to a pattern of inappropriate conduct.”
Marty said in the statement that Furkin had earlier been restricted from another Parkway high school for recording video of students without their permission in class and that he had violated appropriate teacher-to-student interactions by sharing his personal contact information with students.
Furkin rejected the allegations, telling the St. Louis Dispatch that “the district threw me under the bus,” but that he would defend himself.
The educator said that he did not record video of any students, but at the request of the regular teacher took a photo. He said he had been asked to take the photo so the regular teacher could identify which students weren’t taking part in an assignment.
He also challenged allegations of violating rules around inappropriate teacher-to-student interactions. He said he shared his personal Twitter account with students after they asked about books he had written.
According to the report, school board officials have offered Furkin the opportunity to work at a different school, but he declined.
“If I’m being knocked out of the building, I’m just done,” he said. “I don’t want to sub anymore, take me off your rolls. I quit. I’ve had it.”