Ideology Battle in School Results in Student Suspension

Michigan teacher ejects student for anti-gay remarks

By Jeff Karoub|TheOaklandPress.com

DETROIT (AP) — Howell High School economics teacher Jay McDowell says he didn’t like where the discussion was going after a student told his classmates he didn’t “accept gays,” so McDowell kicked the boy out of class for a day.

In return, the teacher was kicked out of his Michigan school for a day — suspended without pay for violating the student’s free speech rights.

The incident has sparked intense debate in Howell, about 45 miles northwest of Detroit, over defending civil rights without trampling on the First Amendment. It’s gained far wider attention since the Livingston County Press & Argus released video of a 14-year-old gay student from another city defending McDowell at a Howell school board meeting.

On Oct. 20, McDowell told a student in his classroom to remove a Confederate Flag belt buckle. She complied, but it prompted a question from a boy about how the flag differs from the rainbow flag, a symbol of pride for the gay community.

“I explained the difference between the flags, and he said, ’I don’t accept gays,”’ said McDowell, 42, who was wearing a shirt with an anti-gay bullying message.

McDowell said he told the student he couldn’t say that in class.

“And he said, ’Why? I don’t accept gays. It’s against my religion.’ I reiterated that it’s not appropriate to say something like that in class,” McDowell said Monday.

McDowell said he sent the boy out of the room for a one-day class suspension. Another boy asked if he also could leave because he also didn’t accept gays.

“The classroom discussion was heading in a direction I didn’t want it to head,” McDowell said.

McDowell soon received a reprimand letter from the district that said his actions violated the students’ free speech rights as well as school policy. It also said he “purposefully initiated a controversial issue” by the wearing the T-shirt featuring the anti-gay bullying message.

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