Cop-teacher controversy crosses the country
May 8, 2003
By David Delcore
TIMES ARGUS STAFF
BARRE - "Suspend" the cop, "thank" the teacher. "Fire" the teacher, "God bless" the cop.
Opinions are like birthdays - everybody's got one - and thanks to Rush Limbaugh, folks from all over the country are sharing their views when it comes to Tom Treece and John Mott.
Treece is the controversial history teacher who has been accused by some of pushing his personal political views on students at Spaulding High School.
Mott is the Barre Town police officer who persuaded a night custodian to unlock the door to Treece's room at 1:30 a.m. on April 9 so he could photograph "offensive" student projects that he believes prove Treece gives his students a biased perspective.
Limbaugh spent more than an hour discussing the story on his nationally syndicated radio program Tuesday, triggering a flurry of e-mails from around the country. The Time Argus received several of those e-mails. Others were aimed Barre Town, and some were directed to the Barre Supervisory Union.
Barre Town Manager Carl Rogers said his office was inundated with e-mails involving Mott's actions at Spaulding while in uniform, on duty and out of his jurisdiction last month.
Some, Rogers said, applauded the officer, others maintained he should be disciplined.
"It was really a mixed bag," he said, adding: "They (the e-mails) came from all over."
Rogers credits Limbaugh for the coast-to-coast response to an issue he said was handled "weeks ago."
"It was immediately dealt with," Rogers said, declining to elaborate on the town's response to an April 15 letter from Superintendent Dorothy Anderson.
In that letter, Anderson said she was disturbed by Mott's actions and asked the town to determine whether any laws were broken during his early morning visit to the school. She subsequently requested copies of the photographs to confirm their authenticity.
Rogers said he would not discuss what, if any, disciplinary action was taken in response to Anderson's complaint.
"We handled the matter per our department policies and we will continue to follow those policies," he said. "I'm not going to comment on a personnel matter."
Mott has said he was ordered by Rogers and Police Chief Michael Stevens to supply copies of the photographs to Anderson. He initially refused, but ultimately agreed to turn the photos over even though he said three lawyers told him he was under no obligation to do so.
Anderson said she also has been dealing with complaints by concerned citizens who claim there is an absence of balance in the history department at Spaulding. Specifically, they pointed the finger at Treece - a teacher they claim brought his personal political views into the classroom in an effort to "indoctrinate students."
The issue came up again earlier this week when many of Treece's current and former students joined other residents in defending him at a school board meeting that included a large number of his most vocal critics.
Anderson, who has defended Treece as a "thought-provoking" teacher who has provided students with a balanced perspective, said he hasn't escaped the incident unscathed.
Anderson said Treece won't be teaching "public issues" at Spaulding in the fall and has complied with orders that he take down two of the more inflammatory bumper stickers that until recently adorned the door to the classroom he shares with another teacher.
According to Anderson, Treece was informed on May 2 that he would not be assigned to teach public issues. She said that decision was based on desire to quell complaints about his teaching style.
"We feel he (Treece) is a lightning rod and his teaching that course would be a disruption to the orderly educational process we'd like to see restored at Spaulding," she said.
Anderson did not rule out the possibility that Treece would teach the course in the future, but said he has been assigned to teach "upper level history courses" during the school year that will start in September.
"He's not teaching that course (public issues) next year," she said.
Anderson also confirmed Treece was ordered to remove two bumper stickers from the window of his classroom door. She said Treece has removed the "Impeach Bush" and "Vermonters for a Bush/Cheney Regime Change" bumper stickers.
"We believe everything in the classroom needs to be balanced," she said. "Those (bumper) stickers crossed the line."
Two bumper stickers - "Goddess Bless the World!" and Albert Einstein's quote "You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war" were allowed to remain, Anderson said.
According to Anderson, at least one parent has complained about a photograph of her child's project that has been posted, along with other pictures on Limbaugh's website.
"We're checking into it, but I'm not sure there's much we can do about it," she said.
The Times Argus has also received several e-mailed letters from out-of-state writers. Most take Treece to task for his teaching and applaud Mott for his efforts to expose the matter.
"... (Mott) should be commended and supported for what he has done and hopefully this incident will be a wake- up call for your community," wrote Bill Strange of Fayetteville, N.C. "The Tom Treeces of this country are using our freedoms to do us harm and they must be stopped." Closer to home, more letter writers were critical of the police officer and supportive of the teacher.
"I would like to thank Tom Treece and his supporters," wrote Shannon Tzrinske of East Granville. "A diverse educational experience is key to survival today.
"For too long we have taught our children only from the 'right,' leaving them with a dangerously narrow view of the world," she added. "I hope that you all continue to fight and stand up for your right to learn."
Barre resident Matt Lash urged voters in Barre and Barre Town to protest the decision not to allow Treece to teach public issues, and called for Mott to be suspended or fired.
"... At the very least, Mott should be forced to attend workshops on proper legal procedure before he is sent out on duty again," Lash wrote. "The fact that he is still carrying a badge and has a firearm is a direct threat to the entire community."