Already off to a rocky start after a failed pump delayed the opening of school one day this week, Westport Community Schools officials are facing another controversy — a complaint filed …
Already off to a rocky start after a failed pump delayed the opening of school one day this week, Westport Community Schools officials are facing another controversy — a complaint filed Thursday by the parent of a middle school student outraged that a short story not previously approved by the district, but presented in class Thursday, contains inappropriate material.
The short story, “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood, has graphic references to drug use, sex and suicide, and was presented in class that day by teacher Matt Shivers. That night, parent Bruno Moura took to Facebook to post photos of several of the story’s passages and express outrage that his 14-year-old daughter was exposed to inappropriate content in class.
“How is this English class!!!” he wrote, calling the teacher “sick-minded.”
Superintendent Thomas Aubin said the district is investigating the complaint and will likely have a resolution on the matter, one way or another, by Wednesday. Schools are closed Friday and Monday.
“The leadership of Westport Community Schools is fiercely protective of our students’ emotional, physical and academic well-being,” Aubin said Friday morning. “That is our first mission. So with that in mind, we will conduct a fair and impartial investigation.”
Moura said he reached out to the teacher and school administration after his daughter returned home from school Thursday, and followed up in later comments to express his opinion that teachers who present such material in class should not be allowed to continue.
His post, and later posts by the school department, received hundreds of comments by Friday morning, from those who said the teacher should be fired to others who say muzzling good educators, and young students, is wrong.
“The wording and the content of that book is disgusting in any form,” wrote Savior Outreach Ministry. “Anyone who believes differently is lacking moral character. Stand up Westport now is your time. We cannot allow this to happen to our children in any fashion.”
“As I have no idea the context of the reading material I am not going to judge it, but I am going to judge the manner at which this teacher is being dragged through the mud,” added Michelle Duarte. “I have known this teacher since he started in Westport and he is a brilliant teacher who has a love for literature and theatre. To say things like he doesn’t belong anywhere near the schools or children, are you serious?”
Aubin said Friday morning that the district has several policies in place that dictate curriculum requirements and teacher conduct. In this case, he said, the book “was not purchased by Westport Community Schools, nor was it presented to this administration.”
Though he said the district does not want to censor teachers, he suggested that teachers need to be aware of the political and social landscape when presenting certain materials to their students.
“Anybody who is using this type of ancillary material as a professional education knows that if they’re going to present something controversial, it is best practice to pass that to the leadership before giving it to students,” he said.
With school closed Friday and Monday, there was no need to determine whether the teacher should stay in class on those two days, Aubin said. District officials will likely decide over the weekend, to as late as Wednesday, on the next step.