Supporters speak out for Oak Park teacher in Twitter case

03/25/2013 2:45 PM

05/20/2014 10:41 AM

An Oak Park science teacher may be on administrative leave, but more than half a dozen parents, students and teachers told the school board last week that they believe he belongs back in the classroom.

“This is a great teacher who has worked tirelessly for 12 years,” said Phillip Gegen, a math teacher at Oak Park High School.

Gegen was one of seven people who addressed the North Kansas City School District Board of Education to discuss the future of a science teacher who has been placed on paid administrative leave after it was reported that he had been using a private Twitter account to communicate with students, which would be against district policy. The teacher’s name has not been released.

Those who spoke last week described a teacher who they say is compassionate, dedicated to his students, a firm educator and “the heart of Oak Park.”

Gegen said the science teacher provides his students with emotional and social support in addition to instruction and has helped many students transition into adulthood. The communication that occurred between students and the teacher, he said, were open conversations and were not “sinister or secretive” in nature.

“He’s one of the good ones,” he said.

Laura Ashlock, a senior at Oak Park High School, said she turned to the science teacher for advice after her father died in December. He encouraged her to remain in school even though she could have chosen to graduate early.

“If I was having a bad day, I could go talk to him about it,” she said. “He made me want to go to school.”

Recent graduate Brittany Burge described the science teacher’s classroom as a safe haven for her when she was eight months pregnant. She said it was a place where she could feel like a normal student.

“What really makes me angry is he was made out to be such a bad person and he’s not,” she said.

Even though she’s no longer attending the school, Burge said she still would like the teacher to be reinstated so that he can make a positive impact on other students too.

Several parents also weighed in on the issue, discussing their experiences with the teacher and the way the issue had been reported. Parent Kim Forshay said her daughter had the teacher freshman year and said he is a beloved educator at the school.

“I’ve known kids to cry because they don’t have him as a teacher,” she said.

Parent David Leatherman said he believed the issue could have been resolved better and questioned whether there was an overall leadership problem at the high school.

Before the speakers addressed the board, board President Joe Jacobs said the board appreciated the comments and the passion of those who had reached out to them about the issue.

Mary Jo Burton, director of communications at the district, said the teacher’s future in the district is still under review. Before any decisions are made, Burton said the district will hold a hearing to consider the issue. Although she didn’t know the date the hearing would occur, she said the science teacher involved will be able to decide whether the hearing will be made public or kept private.

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