Unauthorized trip with pupils to council meeting gets Greenspring Middle teacher's assistant fired

He claims cause was their testimony about the school

April 02, 1999|By Young Chang | Young Chang,SUN STAFF

Teacher's assistant Bill Goodin says all he wanted to do was give his pupils a civic lesson by taking them to Baltimore City Hall. The group of 11- to 13-year-olds even got a chance to testify before a City Council committee.

But his efforts got him fired Tuesday from Greenspring Middle School in Northwest Baltimore. School officials said Goodin failed to get authorization from school officials for what amounted to a school-related field trip.

"It was my personal time and I shouldn't have been fired based upon the actions of me going to a City Council hearing where children had an opportunity to testify," he said. "Those students have a First Amendment right to testify."

Vanessa Pyatt, spokeswoman for the city public schools, said Goodin failed to notify parents and the school. It is standard procedure that permission be secured to take pupils anywhere, "regardless of the time of the event," she said.

Pyatt said she thought "that there are some other issues around" his dismissal but was not a liberty to discuss them. Goodin had no contract and "could be let go at any time with no reason," she said.

Goodin said he wanted his pupils to attend an education committee meeting of the council March 24. Committee members planned to discuss the Adopt a School bill, which would encourage local leaders to volunteer in the schools.

He said he didn't tell school officials but sent letters home to 25 students in classes where he assists about a week before the trip. He said eight students brought back letters signed by parents. Six others told him that their parents said it was OK for them to attend.

The letter instructed pupils to meet Goodin at the McDonald's at Cold Spring Lane and Reisterstown Road. He said he and some pupils' grandparents drove.

All of the pupils signed up to testify at the meeting, then spoke about concerns they had about their school. Goodin said they asked why their bathroom stalls had no doors, why Baltimore County schools seemed to have more equipment and why they couldn't shower after gym classes. Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, who presided over the 5 p.m. meeting, couldn't be reached to comment yesterday about the meeting.

Goodin said he didn't plan for them to testify about the school. "I had no idea what they [pupils] would say, nor did I tell them what to say," he said.

The meeting was televised on cable.

"I guess someone saw it and it got to the principal," Goodin said. "I let the principal see the tape I had, too. I didn't have [anything] to hide."

Goodin claimed he was fired because "the administration of the school took it the wrong way, like maybe I'm trying to put light on the troubles of the school."

Greenspring Principal Gerry Mansfield declined to comment.

But before the trip, Goodin said yesterday, he received a letter from Mansfield encouraging him to "work within the structure of the organization." He said he had questioned in a faculty meeting March 18 whether teachers felt comfortable about speaking up about concerns.

Pub Date: 4/02/99

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