Teacher Probed Over Bush Remarks

Overland High School students shout at passing traffic after walking out of class Thursday morning, March 2, 2006, in Aurora, Colo., to protest the school district's decision to put geography teacher Jay Bennish on administrative leave. The school is investigating remarks made by Bennis about President Bush.
AP Photo/Aurora Daily Sun
About 150 students at a suburban Denver high school walked out of class to protest a decision to put a teacher on administrative leave while the school investigates remarks he allegedly made in class about President Bush, including a comment that some people compare Mr. Bush to Adolf Hitler.

The protest came Thursday as administrators began investigating whether Overland High School teacher Jay Bennish violated a policy requiring balancing viewpoints in the classroom, Cherry Creek School District spokeswoman Tustin Amole said.

"It was peaceful. The students yelled, but there was no fighting," Amole said. "Most of them did return to class."

The suspension, says Amole, is a paid leave and is "not a punitive situation... It just gives us the opportunity to talk to him, to talk to students."

Overland High student Stacy Caruso says Bennish hasn't done anything wrong. "In the classroom," says Caruso, "everyone has their right to speak their opinion and he's not forcing any opinions on anyone."

Another student, Derek Belloni, tells CBS News Station KCNC-TV reporter Rick Sallinger that Bennish is out of line.

"He's supposed to be teaching geography," says Belloni, "and yet he's pushing a liberal agenda trying to convert kids to his side of the spectrum."

A telephone number listed for Bennish, who has been teaching social studies and American history at Overland since 2000, had been disconnected.

Sophomore Sean Allen recorded about 20 minutes of Bennish's class during a Feb. 1 discussion about President Bush's State of the Union speech and gave the recording to his father, who complained to the principal, Amole said.

"After listening to the tape, it's evident the comments in the class were inappropriate. There were not adequate opportunities for opposing points of view," she said.

The student who made the tape agrees.

"I've been his class four weeks," says Allen, "and I've never heard another side."

Deborah Fallin, spokeswoman for the Colorado Education Association, which represents about 37,000 union teachers, said it will not represent Bennish because he is not a member.

"He's terribly upset about the fact that he can't teach right now," says David Lane, an attorney who is now representing Bennish. "He's so upset and I am now his lawyer and we will be going to federal court."