SPENCER — After reviewing a video in which a North Rowan High School teacher tells a student he can be arrested for speaking ill of President Barack Obama, the Rowan-Salisbury School System said it can be a learning experience.
Meanwhile, an expert on politics at Catawba College says the social studies teacher just doesn’t have her facts straight when she insists speaking your mind about a president can get you charged with a criminal offense.
Although two students provided the name of the teacher, the Post is not publishing it because officials within the school system would not confirm her identity and she could not be reached for comment.
The video captures audio of the dispute but does not show the teacher or anyone else. It appears to have been shot with a phone or other device as the camera pointed at the ceiling the entire time.
Rowan-Salisbury spokeswoman Rita Foil confirmed the teacher is still employed with the district and has not been suspended for disciplinary reasons. Foil emailed this statement to a Post reporter Friday on behalf of the school system:
“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.”
The nearly 10-minute video, shot by a student and uploaded to YouTube on Monday, had been viewed more than 1,000 times by Friday afternoon.
It begins with a classroom conversation about a recent news story detailing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney allegedly bullying a classmate in prep school. It turns into a heated, sometimes confrontational debate.
One student asks, “Didn’t Obama bully someone though?”
The teacher responds: “Not to my knowledge.”
In response to the Romney story, conservatives have recently been pointing to a passage in Obama’s book, “Dreams from My Father,” in which the president writes that while in grade school he shoved a little girl, the only other black student in his grade, after other students called him her boyfriend.
When the student tells the teacher that Obama admitted to bullying a girl in school, the teacher goes on the defensive.
“Stop, no, because there is no comparison,” she says. Romney, she says, is “running for president. Obama is the president.”
When the student says they’re both “just men,” the teacher continues to argue that Romney, as a candidate for president, is not to be afforded the same respect as the president.
The teacher tells the class Obama is “due the respect that every other president is due.”
“Listen, let me tell you something, you will not disrespect the president of the United States in this classroom,” she says.
The student replies that he’ll say what he wants.
“Not about him you won’t,” the teacher says.
Later in the conversation, the teacher tells the class it’s criminal to slander a president.
“Do you realize that people were arrested for saying things bad about Bush?” she says of former President Bush. “Do you realize you are not supposed to slander the president?”
The student responds by saying being arrested for talking badly about the president would violate the right to free speech.
“You would have to say some pretty f’d up crap about him to be arrested,” he says. “They cannot take away your right to have your opinion. … They can’t take that away unless you threaten the president.”
Principal Darrel McDowell referred questions about the video to Foil.
Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College and a widely known political analyst, weighed in on the video.
“I think what this broke down to was a perceived personal slight by an instructor against someone she sees in a positive view, and things just went out of control from there,” Bitzer said in an email to the Post.
Bitzer said he thinks the teacher did go a “bit overboard in being rude towards the student.”
“I think the student was also trying to pick a fight, honestly,” he said.
Bitzer said it appears the teacher’s attempt to make a point about showing respect for the office of the president gets overshadowed by her personal feelings for Obama.
“Her point about not being able to say anything ‘disrespectful’ about the president does fly in the face of the First Amendment, and while she may wish to enforce that edict about ‘respecting’ the president, the issue seems to have gotten personal on her part,” Bitzer wrote.
“Granted, she apparently tried to ensure that a respectful conversation was had about the president, but she seems to have taken things a bit too personally — and it appears the student was set on making a confrontation in the guise of raising a question about ‘who bullied who — both Romney and Obama?’ ”
Referencing former president George W. Bush, Richard Nixon and Abraham Lincoln, Bitzer said the fact that there are a lot of “mean, derogatory things said about our elected officials” is part of American history.
Bitzer said he has “no idea” what the teacher is talking about when she claims people were arrested for saying bad things about Bush.
“I have never heard of anyone arrested for saying derogatory things about George W. Bush , which I am assuming she is referring to,” he said. “Her belief that if one slanders the president is not very accurate — if you ‘threaten’ the president, that is another story, and that is a criminal offense.”