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Teacher faces discipline over Obama effigy

By Wayne Drash, CNN
  • Obama effigy found in classroom at troubled Rhode Island school
  • "It was obviously imprudent on his part," superintendent says
  • Local teachers union condemns act
  • Source said teacher is beloved faculty member who has done much good

Central Falls, Rhode Island (CNN) -- The teacher at an embattled Rhode Island school who displayed an effigy of President Obama in his classroom is under disciplinary review, according to the school superintendent.

The Obama effigy was an apparent protest of the president's support of mass firings of the school's teachers. Its existence was first reported on on Thursday.

An Obama doll, about a foot tall, hung by its feet from a white board; the doll held a sign that said, "Fire Central Falls teachers."

Superintendent Frances Gallo discovered the item late Monday at Central Falls High School after being asked about a rumor about an Obama doll hung by his feet in a classroom.

Gallo took it upon herself to investigate and found the effigy Monday night.

"It was obviously imprudent on [the teacher's] part, very ill-conceived and nothing to fool around with," Gallo said.

Bold superintendent hated, loved

The superintendent said the teacher was contrite when confronted but said it was "a joke to him."

Due to union contract stipulations, Gallo said she could not disclose the name of the teacher.

Gallo said it was difficult to comprehend how a teacher could not "understand that a class full of children are very offput by such a 'joke.'

"He doesn't see it as making a mockery or, worse, just total disrespect," Gallo said. "Clearly, he wasn't thinking."

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She said the matter is under disciplinary review and has been sent to Rhode Island State Police. State police have not returned phone calls seeking comment.

The local teachers union condemned the act Thursday.

"Simply put, the teacher's actions were wrong and cannot be condoned under any circumstances," Jane Sessums, president of the Central Falls Teachers Union, said in a written statement.

"The teacher has apologized verbally to his students and has asked Superintendent Frances Gallo for permission to apologize to them in writing. He understands that his actions affect not just his students but all of us. There is no excuse for what he did."

A source, whom CNN is not naming because of the sensitive nature of the story, said the teacher is a beloved member of the faculty who has done a tremendous amount of good over the years. Many of the students in the class are immigrants who hold Obama in high regard; they were learning English as a second language, according to the source.

Central Falls High School has been at the center of an educational firestorm in recent weeks after all 93 teachers, support staff and administrators were fired for the low performance of the school. Gallo took the drastic action after talks with union leaders fell through.

The firings will go into effect at the end of the school year. Teachers can re-apply, but no more than 50 percent will get rehired.

The high school has been failing for the past seven years. Its graduation rate stands around 48 percent. Math proficiency is at 7 percent. Reading scores have improved by 21 percentage points in the past two years but still fall far behind, with 55 percent able to read at grade level, according to school officials.

Most of the 800 students at Central Falls are Hispanic. For many, English is a second language. Teachers say the population is so transient that the statistics are a skewed and unfair representation of the students' smarts and the teachers' skills.

Animosity toward Obama built among teachers after the president endorsed the school's plans for reform.

Marcia Reback, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, said last week that teachers were peeling Obama bumper stickers off their cars.

"When the president of the United States celebrates a superintendent of schools for mass firing an entire faculty of teachers, then that is saying something about his attitude toward teachers," she said. "And it's not a healthy attitude."