RALEIGH — An Enloe High School teacher who publicly criticized a student and warned he might rescind the teen's college recommendation letters has received a five-day suspension without pay from Wake County schools.
Wake County Superintendent Tony Tata had called for the investigation after hearing that social studies teacher Joseph Hoffman criticized in class a letter from Enloe senior Jay Zhang that The News & Observer published Feb. 3. In the letter, Zhang complained about the "glaring academic and cultural divide" between magnet and non-magnet students at Enloe.
Without mentioning Zhang by name, Hoffman expressed his disappointment and told students he was considering rescinding his college recommendation letters.
"I support Jay Zhang's rights to free speech," Tata said Friday in an interview. "I applaud that young man for speaking his mind and exercising his free speech rights. I don't believe any teacher should threaten to take action against a student for exercising his rights to free speech."
Attorney Swain Wood, who represented Hoffman, said the suspension was the result of amicable negotiations between the teacher and the school administration.
Hoffman did not intend to single out any student or to threaten to rescind anyone's college recommendation, Wood said, but realizes his actions could have been perceived that way and takes responsibility for them.
The days of unpaid suspension, between February and June, were chosen by the school system to ensure they had as little impact as possible on Hoffman's teaching duties. They include three teacher workdays, a half-day and the first day of final exams.
In his letter to the editor, Zhang wrote that there is a separation between the magnet and non-magnet students at the school that can't be ignored. Enloe school officials, parents and students say they're working to bridge the gap.
Zhang never complained about Hoffman's remarks, but the parents of other students did. Zhang has since apologized for the letter. He said Friday that he felt that Hoffman's suspension was too harsh.
"I wish nothing had happened to him," Zhang said.
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