MANCHESTER, Mo. (AP/KMOV.com) — A Missouri substitute teacher is seeking answers after claiming he was banned because he thanked students for saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
Jim Furkin worked as a sub for 10 years in St. Louis County's Parkway School District and worked for five years as a sub at Parkway South High School.
Furkin told the school board Thursday that he was subbing in a freshman English class at South High in October. During the pledge, most, but not all, students stood.
Furkin says he thanked those who stood, and then afterwards one student went to a counselor. An administrator told Furkin the student complained he had been "hurt" by Furkin's comment.
Furkin told News 4 he did not understand why his comments cost him his substitute teaching position at South High.
"I'm thanking the class that participates in it," said Furkin, "But obviously in every single classroom you're going to have a few that sit and that's their right, I respect that."
District spokeswoman Cathy Kelly says students choose whether to participate in the pledge, "and our role as educators is not to make a judgment about that choice."
Kelly also said they would not restrict a teacher from a school for one isolated incident, such as this Pledge of Allegiance one. She says, "Several factors, including prior concerns at other schools, would be taken into consideration."
Furkin recalled one other incident that happened at a South High a few years ago where he was reprimanded for content on his Twitter account under his pen name James Ross. Furkin is an author on the side and has written 6 books.
"One of my accounts was automated and it had some inappropriate material on it that automatically got generated through the Twitter feed," said Furkin.
The Parkway District tells News 4 that Furkin is banned from both South and Central High School, following the Pledge of Allegiance incident, combined with his past record. However, the district says Furkin is still allowed to teach at any other school in the Parkway District.
Furkin tells News 4 that he has chosen to resign from substitute teaching altogether.
Some students and parents have shown their support to keep Furkin teaching at Parkway South by signing a petition. A Parkway South parent told News 4 there is a protest on Monday morning on the South High campus to reinstate Mr. Furkin as a substitute teacher.
Friday night, the Parkway District Superintendent, Dr. Keith Marty, sent out a letter to all Parkway South parents and staff providing more details into what other incidents lead to Furkin being banned from South and Central High Schools.
Read Dr. Marty's complete letter to parents and staff below:
Dear South High parents and staff,
As you may know, a South High substitute teacher publicly made comments regarding his employment through Kelly Services. We were in the process of following up on his statement at our school board meeting, when a news story was published last night.
We shared the statement below with news media outlets earlier today and wanted to share this with you as well.
“We proudly recite our Pledge of Allegiance in all Parkway schools and classrooms. Students choose to participate, which is their right, and our role as educators is not to make a judgment about that choice. 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.”
We always try to protect the privacy of everyone involved during these matters. However, 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.
The employee was previously restricted from another Parkway high school for recording video of students without their permission in class. In addition, he violated appropriate teacher-to-student interactions by sharing his personal contact information with students at South High. Based on previous concerns from staff and students, the principal of South High addressed these matters with the substitute teacher. The substitute was coached and reminded of his professional obligations.
Unfortunately, he did not maintain the high standards we expect of adults who work with our children. It is worth noting that during the recent incident regarding the pledge, the substitute’s comments caused disruption during class. By praising certain students for standing, the students who made the decision not to stand were humiliated and then teased. The class environment did not cultivate an atmosphere of learning and acceptance of the views and values of others. As you know, our mission and vision are integral parts of teaching and learning in Parkway.
We take great care in every personnel matter as these decisions impact our students in the classroom each day. We appreciate the trust you place in us to make the best decisions for your children.
Dr. Keith Marty