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New York Teacher Retires After Clashing With Principal Over AIDS Education and Common Core Fallout


"Now, I don’t know where teaching is headed. I just know I can’t anymore. I find it torture."

Tom Porton (David Gonzalez/New York Times)

Tom Porton has been teaching English and performing arts for 45 years at James Monroe High School in the Bronx. But after clashing with the school’s principal, Brendan Lyons, over the topic of AIDS, Porton, 67, recently announced his retirement, the New York Times reported.

It began in December, on World AIDS Day, when Porton handed out HIV/AIDS education fliers that listed nonsexual ways of “Making Love Without Doin’ It,” which included the suggestion to “read a book together.”

Shortly after this, Porton, who had circulated the same flier every year for almost 25 years, received an email from Lyons saying the flier was “inappropriate.” Lyons, who arrived at James Monroe High School at the beginning of the school year, requested that Porton collect the fliers he had already given out.

Porton told the Times that though the principal said he would discuss the issue later with him, that conversation never happened.

The educator said that this month Lyons eliminated the 40-student civic leadership class Porton taught before formal start of the school day, which he created to engage students in community activities such as feeding the homeless. Lyons justified the removal by saying it was not part of the Common Core curriculum.

That decision, combined with Porton’s disapproval of the standardized testing craze he believes to be harming many schools, led to the retirement announcement. Porton handed in his paperwork Friday and will officially end his tenure at the high school next month.

“School is not pleasant, the way it was when I started,” he told the Times. “They pay lip service to the social and emotional well-being of the child. My generation of teachers had a mind-set about how to teach a child. Today, many young teachers see teaching as a way to kill time on the way to something else.”

According to the Times, Porton was viewed as a “life saver and life changer” at a school located in an area where HIV and AIDS remain a threat, especially among young blacks and Latinos. Porton still recalls the 1980s, when the Bronx River neighborhood was plagued by an AIDS and crack epidemic.

People participate in a candlelight vigil for World Aids Day Dec. 1 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Back then, he helped establish a group of peer educators who worked with Montefiore Medical Center to teach teens about HIV prevention. Porton received many honors for his efforts, including recognition from the New York City Council and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which eventually led to his induction into the National Teachers Hall of Fame.

Porton told the Times that his activism was necessary as the school had failed to meet Department of Education mandates to educate students about the diseases.

“My career has always been based on the emotional and social well-being of the child,” Porton said. “Now, I don’t know where teaching is headed. I just know I can’t anymore. I find it torture. I’d rather separate myself from the classroom doing something that is distasteful and try to spend my days doing things that are important.”

Lyons, who replied “no comment” to questions during a telephone conversation with the Times, would not say if the school met the mandates and never explained to Porton why he found the fliers “inappropriate.”

Some former students who heard about Porton’s retirement on Facebook were livid.

“How can anyone think what he does is inappropriate?” Janelle Roundtree, a 1995 Monroe graduate and Howard University alumna told the Times. “He changed Monroe. He was in the forefront of so many things. The school is losing out on this one.”

“It was bittersweet,” Porton said of his decision to retire. “I’m sort of resigned to making the change. But there’s still a part of me that feels I’ll have to figure out where I’m going to go each day. Hopefully, somebody’s going to ask for my expertise somewhere. Let’s put it this way: I’m looking for a job.”

(H/T: New York Times)

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