Teacher Robert Duncan Fired For Obama Cartoons Fights For His Job Back
Political cartoons can spark furies, like the Danish cartoon controversy of 2005, or the Bangladesh cartoon controversy of 2007, or the Trayvon Martin cartoon controversy of early 2012. The latest is ripping apart the small town of Slidell, La., and the controversial cartoonists are in junior high.
Their teacher, Robert Duncan, was fired earlier this month from Boyet Junior High School in Slidell for displaying the students' depictions of President Barack Obama, which some found violent and racially charged. But during his appeal, other teachers in the southeast Louisiana city have stepped up to passionately defend their former colleague.
Duncan hung up his student's pictures in late January in the hallway outside his classroom. But some of the cartoons, like one depicting a bullet hole in Obama's temple (pictured above) and another implying that it was Obama hunting season, disturbed a passing parent. The parent snapped photos of the cartoons on her cellphone and sent them to the media, according to Duncan's attorneys. Then the firestorm began.
Secret Service agents went to the homes of two of the students, reports The Times-Picayune, and questioned the children and their parents to see if they posed a real threat to the president. Duncan was placed on paid administrative leave, and on Aug 6., Superintendent Trey Folse officially ended Duncan's 13-year career at Boyet.
Folse testified on Wednesday that Duncan was fired for "making a bad, incompetent" decision by posting the "violent" pictures, as well as for dishonesty.
But during Duncan's appeal last week, two of his former colleagues testified that the political cartoons were a completely appropriate assignment. "Not only is it an appropriate assignment, but it's recommended," said Mark Selzer, the school's social studies chair.
"I did not see the element of racism," he also told CNN. "I saw political points of view being expressed, whether pro-Obama or anti-Obama, and that's what the lesson was designed to do."
Duncan also claimed that the apparent bullet hole in what many consider to be the most worrisome image wasn't there when he first hung up the cartoon. That story is disputed, however, by the student illustrator herself, who claimed that the bullet hole was the result of a marker that had been dropped accidentally.
But the final decision of the appeals panel -- which can only issue a recommendation, not a reversal -- is indefinitely on hold as another storm sweeps through the region. The hearing will resume when Tropical Storm Isaac blows over, reports The Times-Picayne. And then the media can shift from its damage-and-evacuation coverage and back to the battle of the former eighth grade teacher.
Whenever a teacher is fired for seemingly political behavior, the media tends to be on hand, as when a Michigan teacher was dismissed for encouraging her students to raise money for Trayvon Martin's family, or when an Oregon State professor was fired for expressing skepticism of climate change. Boyet Supervisor of Administration Michael Cosse even admitted during the hearing that if the story hadn't been all over the news, Duncan would probably still have his job.
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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