Monday, May 23, 2016
Three years ago today- The lies C. J. Huff told about me
For the last several days, Joplin has been observing the fifth anniversary of the tornado that destroyed one-third of the city on May 22, 2011.
The second event that I remember each year is one of a more personal nature, though it is safe to say that it has had a lasting effect on the Joplin R-8 School District.
Three years ago today, I sat at a table in the conference room of the MODOT Building, which was then serving as the home of R-8 Administration and listened as members of C. J. Huff's administration did their level best to not only make sure that I did not teach in Joplin any more, but that I never taught anywhere ever again and that my reputation would be completely ruined and I would have to leave Joplin.
My crime- I wrote a novel in which one of the main characters was an incompetent school superintendent, which by the way, not only did I have the right to do that without fear of losing my job, but even Huff and his lawyer acknowledged that was the case.
Because No Child Left Alive contained sex scenes and some profanity, Huff labeled the book as pornography and I was accused initially of assigning my students to read it because I had mentioned it on a blog, Room 210 Discussion, that I had used for my classroom at one time, but had not done so for three years.
By the time, my hearing was held, despite grilling my students, they were not able to find even one student who had read the book.
C. J Huff's explanation for that? They might be so ashamed of it they didn't want to admit that they had read such an evil book.
The lies they told
During the 10-hour hearing, the following testimony was given by C. J. Huff and his administrative team:
-H. R. Director Tina Smith said my students were so protective of me that she noticed "signs of grooming." Under cross-examination by my lawyer, she admitted she had found no evidence to indicate that I had ever done anything of that nature. "Then why did you say it?" my lawyer asked. There were no accusations of that sort against me, but that did not stop the character assassination, nor did any of the seven members of the Board of Education ever try to put a stop to it.
-Another accusation against me was that I had used student work for my profit with my book, Scars from the Tornado, about our first year attending school at a warehouse following the tornado. I was also accused of publishing the book without administrative approval. In fact, I had kept East Middle School Principal Bud Sexson informed every step of the way. Sexson testified that he had never even heard of the book until I announced to the East faculty that it had been published. Two of my witnesses, the president and treasurer of the East PTO, testified that Sexson had talked to them about the book 10 months before he says he learned of it for the first time. They said that Sexson told them he was excited about the book and thought it would be a great thing for the kids as they dealt with the trauma of the tornado. As for making money off the book, I testified that I had lost more than $4,000 during my efforts to promote Spirit of Hope so I could keep my promise of buying a copy of Scars from the Tornado for every student and staff member at East. Though I was able to keep that promise by providing free e-books to 1,100 people, I have yet to make a penny off Scars, nor have I completed paying off the debt I ran up as I tried to live up to promise.
-C. J. Huff acknowledged that there was no evidence that I had ever done anything to a child, but he also cried and said he could not sleep at night if I were to remain in the classroom and that he would never want his daughter to have a teacher like me. He also said the board could not take a chance on letting me remain on the faculty. What if some child was harmed because of that decision?
-Huff also tried to make the board think that he had turned my case over to the Joplin Police Department, the Southwest Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force, and the U. S. Attorney's office, when, in fact, he had done no such thing. I did not discover the truth behind those statements until after the hearing and was halfway expecting a visit from law enforcement. Huff's references had to do with someone who had posted a message on the East Middle School PTO website, taking the catchphrase from No Child Left Alive, "If the shooter doesn't get them, the system will," and writing, "If the shooter doesn't get them, the East Middle School Administration will." East went on lockdown because of that statement. I had nothing to do with it, but C. J. Huff did not let that stand in the way of making the board think I was under investigation and could be arrested at any time. To this day, no one has asked me any questions about that or anything else.
-Smith and Huff also indicated that I had been turned over to the Division of Family Services. It seems odd that I was hotlined and to this day have not been contacted by anyone with DFS. It usually does not take DFS three years to investigate allegations.
Eventually, I was fired for three reasons.
-Though they were unable to find any student who had read No Child Left Alive, I had "dangled" it in front of them by mentioning it and leaving links to it on the Turner Report and my other websites and did not screen those websites to make sure that no student was tempted to buy my book.
-I "violated school policy" when I recorded Smith's interrogation of me the day, Smith had a police officer escort me out of East in front of my students as they were leaving school for the day. The policy I supposedly violated speaks specifically of recordings dealing with students. And if I truly violated policy, why did the board add a policy forbidding the recording of meetings with administration several months after my hearing? It might also be noted that several months ago, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that such recordings cannot be prohibited.
-I did not receive permission from administration to publish Scars from the Tornado.
In the ruling that the board issued about a week and a half after the hearing, it was specified that the board found no evidence that I had done anything that would violate the morals clause in my contract.
And to straighten out this persistent rumor- I STILL HAVE MY TEACHING LICENSE. No effort was ever made to take that away from me. You would think that C. J. Huff might have made an effort since he testified under oath that the police, the Southwest Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force, and the FBI were investigating me. Anyone who checks with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will find that I am still a teacher in good standing.
Of course, it is extremely difficult for a teacher to get hired when the Joplin Globe and other media reported the things C. J. Huff and Tina Smith said. That summer, I applied for a dozen teaching jobs, including eight that involved teaching eighth grade English, something I had done well for 14 years. I was never even called in for an interview.
Since then, I have applied for more than two dozen teaching jobs with no interviews. From a couple of these places I learned that the accusations that were proven false during my hearing were still being repeated by people within the Huff Administration who warned people they might regret hiring me because something might happen to a child.
Working for change
In the past three years, I have done everything I can to make sure that things change in the Joplin R-8 School District. Though I cannot claim credit for it, none of the seven board members who voted against me remain on the board. Of the people who testified against me and exaggerated, slipped in as much innuendo as they could, and outright lied, only one is still working for the district and my understanding is she will not be for much longer.
After I was fired, I wondered if anyone would believe what I was writing about what was going on in the district. I quickly discovered that my case was the tip of the iceberg and that hundreds of teachers were being driven out of the district, millions in taxpayer dollars were being wasted, and the education of thousands of Joplin students was taking a back seat to a public relations apparatus designed to build a national profile for C. J. Huff as a hero of the Joplin Tornado and as the founder of Bright Futures.
It was not hard to find the evidence. It was always in plain sight. There were documents galore that spelled out the types of games Huff was playing with the truth and with the taxpayers' money. After I began writing about him on a regular basis, Huff tried to say that I could write anything I wanted to about him because he was a public figure and he couldn't sue me for libel. While it is more difficult for a public figure to sue for libel, to win such a case, all Huff would have to prove that what I was writing was not the truth and that it was being written with actual malice and awareness that it was not the truth.
Since it would not be too hard to prove that I do not like the man, I had to be extra careful to make sure I was absolutely right about the things I posted. Even more importantly, I had to make sure I was accurate and backed up my writing with proof, including documents, to overcome any resistance from people who might resist believing what I was writing because I had "an ax to grind."
In these past three years, I have received little, if any, backlash from anyone in Joplin. The commenters on the Turner Report who have said the worst things about me are, for the most part, people who hated me long before my hearing. Most of them have been critical of me dating back to my days at the Carthage Press and even earlier.
Though I hit C. J. Huff with everything I had, I am not the one who pushed Huff out of his job. He did that all on his own. The worst things I reported were nearly always things he said as he tried to stretch the truth or as he tried to get his way.
He buried himself with his attacks on Jennifer Martucci and Debbie Fort, his attempts to hide the $100,000 bleacher fiasco, and his outright lies when the high school failed an inspection and he said it had not.
And those are just a few examples of the damage Huff inflicted on himself. It doesn't even touch on the eight million dollars in "might-as-well" spending.
In all of that time, I kept hearing that Huff had something on me and that if I did not lay off, he was going to bury me.
That never worried me. I haven;t lived a perfect life, but there was nothing I had done that would give me any cause for concern.
In the days before the 2014-2015 school year began, Huff made what he called "The Whirlwind Tour," going to each school in the district and during his meetings with faculty and staff, he warned that I was out to get them. And during his talks, he said that I had given pornography to 150 children. Of course, those would have been the students I had during my final year- none of whom read No Child Left Alive.
C.J. Huff always had the option of telling the truth. Apparently, that never even occurred to him.
I have still not given up on returning to the classroom. And I would love for that to be in the Joplin R-8 School District.
I have applied for reinstatement, though that appears to be a long shot. I hope to teach language arts at East Middle School again. It is a school that is filled with talented, but inexperienced teachers, and I have always worked with younger teachers to help them face the challenges that the job brings with it.
I also know the people of that area and worked with some of the staff at East and would appreciate having the opportunity to have at least a few familiar faces if I am able to return to the classroom.
It has not been an easy three years for me, but I am not complaining. I have been able to accomplish a lot in that time. I could have done without the stents, the open heart surgery, and the cataract surgery, but I have made a great many friends during this time, renewed some old friendships, and have done what I consider to be some of the most important work in my life.
While I still look at May 23, 2013, with sadness, I also look at it as the day that the people of Joplin found out just how far C. J. Huff could go to get what he wants and the beginning of the end for a dark period in Joplin R-8 history.