Decision to dismiss Sullivan County teacher upheld by impartial hearing officer

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SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – An impartial hearing officer appointed by the Sullivan County School Board has rendered his decision about the dismissal of Sullivan County Contemporary Issues teacher Matthew Hawn.

Attorney Dale Conder of Rainey Kizer Reviere and Bell Law Office in Jackson, Tennessee, found in his review of the transcript from Hawn’s appeal hearing and applicable Tennessee law that the school board “met its burden for establishing its grounds for terminating Matthew Hawn.”

In order for a tenured teacher to be fired, the school board must prove that the teacher in question failed to follow the Teacher Code of Ethics.

After being reprimanded twice, Conder wrote in his findings that he believed Hawn in fact broke the Code of Ethics and that he acted insubordinately by failing to follow the reprimand.

View the entire legal document here:

Conder asserts that Hawn was made aware of the need to present multiple perspectives on several occasions, and by failing to do so he met the state’s definition of insubordination. Hawn was also previously warned that discussion of White Privilege as a fact would warrant further discipline.

Sullivan County Schools released the following statement:

“The outcome of the tenure hearing confirms the decision of the former Director, Dr. David
Cox, to terminate Matthew Hawn. The termination stemmed from a repeated failure to abide
by school policy of presenting opposing viewpoints in his contemporary issues class at
Sullivan Central High School. The subject matter of Hawn’s class was never the issue in this
case. The issue centered on the materials presented and the vulgarities that were shown on a
video in violation of school policy, and the fact that Hawn previously had been reprimanded
and instructed to offer varying points of view. The hearing officer has correctly ruled in Dr.
Cox’s favor. A classroom should be, as Margaret Mead once noted, a setting to teach kids
how to think, not what to think, and Hawn failed to provide the required tools to do so.”

Evelyn Rafalowski, Director of Schools for the Sullivan County Board of
Education

Rafalowski referenced retired Sullivan County Director of Schools Dr. David Cox who brought the dismissal charges against Hawn in the first place.

The video that broke the camel’s back

The charges of dismissal came in early 2021 after two incidents highlighted by the Sullivan County school district.

The first time Hawn was reprimanded by the school district was after a parent complained in early February about an opinion article Hawn had assigned to his Contemporary Issues students by Ta-Nehisi Coates entitled “The First White President,” which the complaining parent claimed painted the former president Donald Trump in a negative light.

Hawn was issued an official letter of reprimand which passed unanimously at the March Board of Education meeting.

The second round of allegations came in late March 2021 when Hawn showed a video called “White Privilege,” a spoken word poem by Kyla Jenee Lacey to his class, and a parent complained to the school system.

The school district wrote to Hawn that though the concept of discussing white privilege and the like during a contemporary issues class is perfectly acceptable, the district administration did not believe some of the terms and curse words used in the video were appropriate for high school students.

At the June Board of Education meeting, the board voted 6-1 to dismiss Hawn. He then appealed and a hearing was held to evaluate the merit of the dismissal.

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