An Orange County high school teacher resigned just as an investigation into allegedly inappropriate political comments in the classroom began, school board Chairman Stephen Halkiotis said.
The accusations against Amanda Harder, an English teacher at Cedar Ridge High School, were reported last week by the Triangle-based blog LadyLiberty1885.com and were picked up by some national and international news outlets.
Harder’s students said their teacher asked them to compare speeches by Adolf Hitler with those made by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, according to the blog run by conservative blogger A.P. Dillon.
Halkiotis announced Harder’s voluntary resignation at Monday night’s school board meeting.
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“Please know that our Board of Education has clear policies that prohibit staff from promoting or denouncing a particular candidate or party,” he read from a prepared statement. “While our teachers are free to educate students about political issues, when relevant to the curriculum, there is a fundamental difference between educating and advocating; between informing and voicing personal views.”
Efforts to reach Harder and Cedar Ridge Principal Heather Blackmon were unsuccessful.
Halkiotis said Harder already had plans resign in December. She had been an English Honors and A.P. World History teacher at Cedar Ridge since 2014, according to her LinkedIn profile. She started teaching in 1997 and also worked 15 years with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.
Dillon first wrote about Harder’s comments on Sept. 21, publishing what she says is a student recording from Harder’s classroom.
The teacher in the recording calls Trump a “master of pathos,” who manipulates his audience through their fears. The comments were part of a lesson on three ways to persuade an audience, she says, noting that an argument using pathos appeals to the emotions.
The teacher also says Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party nominee, and liberal news outlets use the technique – although they are “a little bit more subtle.”
Cedar Ridge parent Janet Lamb talked with her son, a student in the class, after learning about the issue. She appreciated that he was able to discuss the issue with other students and listen to their opinions, she said.
While she hasn’t heard the recording, she can understand why there might be concern, Lamb said.
“My first reaction was that I supported the teacher,” Lamb said. “She seemed to be following the curriculum and finding things that were going on in current events that supported the curriculum, so I felt like she was teaching appropriately. But I do say that if I was a Trump supporter, I would have been upset.”
Parent Stephanie Rogers did hear the recording. Her daughter was in Harder’s other class, which was studying similar themes in English and A.P. World History, she said. Harder had assigned the class a book on World War II and asked them to pick topics for a section on how to write with influence, she said.
“I have no grief whatsoever about what was being studied or covered in the curriculum. It all made sense to me, and the fact that teachers are asked to make things current and relevant, even that part I understood,” Rogers said. “I’m not sure I would have made exactly the same choices and statements the teacher did, but given the whole context, it didn’t seem out of line to me.
She is concerned more that her daughter lost a good English teacher, Rogers said, and the precedent it sets for handling future grievances.
“I just don’t believe this was a national or international issue, but that’s where it went, and I don’t feel like the school or the district had a means of addressing the real grievance, because they weren’t given that chance,” she said.
Several parents and others who criticized Harder on social media did not respond to interview requests.
Halkiotis said teachers were reminded about the district’s policy; the county’s diversity of opinions makes it important to be “mindful and respectful,” he said.
“The last thing the school system or any school needs is to become a battleground between political opponents,” Halkiotis said.
“That is not what we’re in business for,” he said. “We’re in business to educate children and to help them become better citizens. You’ve got to be very careful how you walk that line.”