ST. LOUIS, Mo. — A long-time substitute teacher is told not to come back to Parkway South High School after he thanked students for standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. That act was considered “bullying” a district spokeswoman said.
Teacher, Jim Furkin, 66, thanked students for standing for the pledge but at least one student who did not stand felt singled out and bullied. It’s a school district where school board members stand and recite the pledge at every meeting and where the Parkway South nickname is, “Patriots.”
“The PA announcer says please rise for the pledge of allegiance,” Furkin told Fox 2. “I say ‘let’s go’. The kids get up, 24 kids in class and 22 got up. I say, ‘thank you very much, all of you that participated. I appreciate that. I’m sure all of those families that lost loved ones so we could have the freedoms we have today would appreciate that, too.’ That’s what I said.”
Furkin was a substitute teacher for the district for about 10 years. He filled in at Parkway South almost daily for the past 5-years. The encouragement for support of the pledge is nothing new, he said.
Still, after this incident district officials told him he could no longer work at Parkway South but could still fill in at other schools. He told the school board this week he was done.
Furkin compared his action to complimenting the hairstyle of one board member but not the others and then being banned from future meetings because he’d bullied the other board members. The flag, he said, was a special case with him.
“I just think that I would try to convey something like that to the kids who just take everything for granted. That flag is not to be taken for granted, in my opinion. It is our symbol of freedom,” Furkin said.
In a letter home to parents and staff, the school superintendent said the pledge incident was not the sole factor in Furkin being banned from Parkway South. Here’s the letter in its entirety:
“As you may know, a South High substitute teacher publicly made comments regarding his employment through Kelly Services. We were in the process of following up on his statement at our school board meeting, when a news story was published last night.
We shared the statement below with news media outlets earlier today and wanted to share this with you as well.
‘We proudly recite our Pledge of Allegiance in all Parkway schools and classrooms. Students choose to participate, which is their right, and our role as educators is not to make a judgment about that choice. While we cannot share details of individual personnel matters, we would not recommend that a substitute teacher be restricted from a school simply based on a single isolated incident such as this. Several factors, including prior concerns at other schools, would be taken into consideration before making a recommendation.’
We always try to protect the privacy of everyone involved during these matters. However, there has been an omission of important facts in this case. The truth is, we recommended that this substitute not return due to a pattern of inappropriate conduct.
The employee was previously restricted from another Parkway high school for recording video of students without their permission in class. In addition, he violated appropriate teacher-to-student interactions by sharing his personal contact information with students at South High. Based on previous concerns from staff and students, the principal of South High addressed these matters with the substitute teacher. The substitute was coached and reminded of his professional obligations.
Unfortunately, he did not maintain the high standards we expect of adults who work with our children. It is worth noting that during the recent incident regarding the pledge, the substitute’s comments caused disruption during class. By praising certain students for standing, the students who made the decision not to stand were humiliated and then teased. The class environment did not cultivate an atmosphere of learning and acceptance of the views and values of others. As you know, our mission and vision are integral parts of teaching and learning in Parkway.
We take great care in every personnel matter as these decisions impact our students in the classroom each day. We appreciate the trust you place in us to make the best decisions for your children.”
Still, it was only after “the pledge” incident that Furkin was let go. To him, it doesn’t add up.
“Are you done?” asked Fox 2’s Andy Banker. “Yeah, I’ve had enough. That’s a shame. That’s what I’m going to miss. I’m going to miss the kids.”
Furkin is also a Parkway Schools graduate.