ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. One of two teachers suspended for allowing students to display war-related artwork in class was cleared to return to his job, while a hearing for the other was unfinished yesterday, a spokesman said.
Allen Cooper, a language arts teacher at Highland High School, and Geoffrey Barrett, who teaches history and current events, were told March 31 they would be suspended if they did not remove posters that expressed both pro- and anti-war sentiments from their classrooms, they said yesterday.
Cooper met with officials yesterday afternoon and was cleared to return to work today, Cooper and district spokesman Rigo Chavez said.
“I really agonized over this,” Cooper said. “I don’t want to be suspended. I just want to teach my classes.”
“To help students learn how to think for themselves and literacy those are my two missions. That is how I define myself in the classroom. I think I was fulfilling that mission,” he said.
Chavez said he did not know what, if any, conditions might have been imposed on Cooper or the posters.
Barrett, meanwhile, met with principal Anthony Trujillo and human resources consultant Ron Williams late yesterday morning. Barrett said he walked out of the meeting because officials could not point to a district policy that prohibited student artwork on the war.
“They have no regard for free speech and for the rights of students to voice their opinions,” Barrett said after leaving the meeting.
“Our district policies are that I can’t display my own personal opinion, but that is not what this is about. This is about the students’ rights, and they are too thick-headed to see the difference,” he said.
A date was not immediately set for the continuation of his hearing, Chavez said.
Two teachers and a counselor from neighboring Rio Grande High School were scheduled to return to work March 31 after being suspended for refusing to take down anti-war signs. District officials have said the employees violated a district policy.
Cooper said one sign in his classroom, “No War Mr. Cooper,” was written by an Afghani student who had family members killed in U.S.-led bombings in Afghanistan, he said.
Barrett said student-made signs in his classroom carried both anti-war and pro-war messages that were made as part of class assignment.
“The posters displayed the whole range of opinions about the war in Iraq, but the administration said the pro-war posters were not pro enough,” he said. “Asking me to take down the posters was taking away the voice of the students and I was not going to do that.”