A teacher who compared Fuquay-Varina High School to a concentration camp will keep his job but will be suspended for five days without pay, the Wake County Public School System announced Friday.
Ray Fournier, a biology teacher at the high school, also will be given unspecified “guidance and assistance” by school officials to prevent a similar incident from occurring in the future, the school system said in a statement.
In September, Fournier wrote a magazine article comparing the school to a concentration camp and blaming it for turning a student gay. In the article, which encouraged Christian families to pull their children out of public schools, he referred to his own job as “behind enemy lines.”
The comments drew national attention and complaints from parents and students, prompting school officials to investigate. Fournier, who has taught at Fuquay-Varina High since 2000, remained in the classroom during the investigation.
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In Friday’s statement, the school system said it “recognizes and respects the First Amendment rights of its employees to free speech in their private lives to the extent the exercise of these rights is not disruptive to students, staff, or the school environment.”
“Mr. Fournier acknowledges that he exceeded his rights by making disruptive statements in materials he wrote and published, and has issued an apology for those statements,” the school system said. “He has accepted this matter as a learning experience, and has assured the school system that there will be no further such incidents.”
Fournier apologized for the Holocaust remarks soon after they were published in the Christian magazine “No Greater Joy.” But he never addressed his anti-gay statements or remarks that, as a biology teacher, he despises teaching evolution as required by the state.
“Some people might not understand the seriousness of the spiritual destruction of our children and as a result, might come to the conclusion that I am being disrespectful to those families who directly suffered in the holocaust,” he wrote in his apology last month.
Fournier did not respond to multiple requests for comment when his writings first came to light, nor did Fuquay-Varina High Principal Jonathan Enns. Neither could be reached Friday, either.
Terry Stoops, an education expert with the conservative John Locke Foundation, said the district made a sensible decision because Fournier likely would have had a strong legal case if he had been fired.
“He keeps his job, and the school board avoids a lawsuit they would probably lose,” Stoops said. “And everyone gets to move on and call it a learning experience.”
Krista Bennett, a parent of a senior at Fuquay-Varina High, was one of the people who lodged formal complaints about Fournier’s statements in the article as well as in a book he wrote on the same subject.
Bennett said she’s disappointed that the district’s decision seems to indicate parents’ concerns have little influence. She said Fournier’s punishment – losing a week of pay – was basically a slap on the wrist.
“In the corporate sector you’d get fired over that,” she said. “But I guess not in the school board sector.”
Stoops said that while Fournier’s Holocaust comments were insulting and misguided, the district was correct in recognizing the teacher’s right to express his opinion.
However, he said, other teachers should note that they don’t have as much leeway to controversial opinions as the general public – especially when they publish them in a magazine or on social media.
“The First Amendment matters, but it’s not all that matters here,” said Stoops, a former high school teacher and college professor. “Especially in the role he was in. Certainly teachers are held to different standards ... a much higher standard when it comes to what they say in public.”
In recent years, several Wake County teachers have been suspended for actions in and out of the classroom.
One who was suspended without pay for five days, like Fournier, was a teacher at Enloe High School who in 2011 criticized a student’s letter to the editor in front of the class and warned that he might rescind college letters of recommendation he had written for the student.
Others suspended recently include:
• Another Enloe teacher who in 2007 was suspended with pay, given a reprimand, put on a corrective action plan and transferred to a new school after inviting a speaker to class who denounced Islam.
• A West Lake Middle School teacher who in 2010 was suspended with pay and reassigned to the central office after posting Facebook comments critical of her students, Christianity and the South.
• A Leesville Road Middle School teacher who in 2013 was suspended with pay after allegedly telling students not to wear rosary beads in class. She resigned before the investigation was completed.Staff writer T. Keung Hui contributed.