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Last Monday, a high school student in North Carolina engaged his social studies teacher in a heated debate about politics and the two leading presidential candidates. During the exchange, the teacher (an obvious Obama supporter) got very angry with the student and accused him of disrespecting the president. She even went so far as to tell the boy that he could be jailed for speaking ill of Obama.
Sarah Campbell of the Salisbury Post first reported on the story. She claims that the school district is not releasing the name of the teacher and that she is not responding to requests for public comment (although the two students identified her to the newspaper). According to Campbell's story, the teacher will not be suspended or even face disciplinary action for what was heard on the recording. A statement from the school was released at the end of the week:
“The Rowan-Salisbury School System expects all students and employees to be respectful in the school environment and for all teachers to maintain their professionalism in the classroom. This incident should serve as an education for all teachers to stop and reflect on their interaction with students. Due to personnel and student confidentiality, we cannot discuss the matter publicly.”
So, how bad was the exchange? It got fairly heated, with the teacher shouting at times. The kerfuffle started after one student asked a question about the teacher's "fact of the day" that said Romney was a bully back in high school. A student asked:
"Didn't Obama bully somebody, though?"
The teacher started to get angry and said:
"Not to my knowledge."
A couple of students relayed the story about Obama admitting that he bullied someone when he was younger. And that seemed to light the fuse on his teacher's anger. A couple of the students exchanged words with the angry teacher.
"Stop! Stop! Because there's no comparison. He's running for president. Obama is the president."
As one student attempted to argue for a fair, two-sided debate on the history of the candidates, he was shouted down and talked over by the teacher. She continued:
"You got to realize, this man is wanting to be what Obama is. There's no comparison."
Once again, the students pressed for equal discussion of the histories of both men, with one saying:
"If you're gonna talk trash about one side, you gotta talk trash about the other."
The teacher just seemed to dig her heels in deeper and press her defense of Obama telling the defiant teen:
"You will not disrespect the president of the United States in this classroom."
Again the student persisted and invoked his First Amendment right.
"I'll say what I want."
The still unidentified teacher read the student her rules...her Obama rules.
"Not about him, you won't!"
The back and forth continued and the most strident of the two students reminded his teacher that President Bush was constantly treated to negative statements about him while he was in office:
"Whenever Bush was president, everybody talked sh-t about him."
To which the teacher responded:
"Because he was sh-tty."
The social studies educator went on for a full minute with more ranting, saying that people were arrested for saying derogatory things about President Bush. The student correctly reminded the teacher that opinions are protected, but you cannot be arrested unless you threaten the president.
Our research has not turned up a single case of anyone in America being arrested for speaking ill of former President Bush. The local newspaper story also mentioned that their discussions about the story with a political science professor could not recall the arrests that the teacher was speaking about.
We learned the name and the fate of the Social Studies teacher heard on the video posted below. Toyna Dixon-Neely is the woman heard yelling at students who dared to express negative opinions about President Obama. We also found out that Ms. Dixon-Neely's outrageous statements may not have led to a strict punishment: the local newspaper is reporting that she has been suspended with pay. (Curiously the Huffington Post says that the teacher is on an unpaid suspension, pending the outcome of the investigation by the school board.)
The entire confrontation was recorded by a student and posted on YouTube. Listen below; slight content warning for language.
H/T @keder on Twitter