Dismissed Sullivan County teacher’s appeal hearing underway

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SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) — A former Sullivan Central High School contemporary issues teacher appeared in court Monday for the beginning of a process that is expected to last through Wednesday.

The hearing officer over the case heard testimony from students, the school’s principal, and system administrators along with Hawn as the school system’s side was presented.

Matthew Hawn’s appeal comes weeks after the Sullivan County Board of Education voted 6-1 to dismiss the teacher after two incidents involving what the board believes to be inappropriate content.

A parent complained in February about a reading assignment “The First White President,” which the parent believes paints the former president in a negative light.

“You would agree with me that it sounds like you’re advocating for the same position she was?” asked Chris McCarty, who represents the Sullivan Co. School System. Hawn responded: “No, I was advocating for the definition of white privilege.”

Following the first complaint, Hawn showed a video called “White Privilege” — a spoken word poem by Kyla Jenee Lacey — to his students. This sparked a second round of criticism from the school district due to content and language.

“Do you think you could have given the kids copies of the poem with the redacted language?” asked McCarty. “Yes,” Hawn replied.

“And that would’ve been safer than trying to hit the mute button, am I right?” McCarty asked. “Yes,” said Hawn. “And you wouldn’t have had the captioning issue?” questioned McCarty. “Correct,” replied Hawn.

The system claims Hawn was previously warned to not have language like what was used in those materials and was asked to provide different viewpoints.

Hawn explains statements made before the “White Privilege” video played in his classroom.

“Before you played the video by miss lacy, that was after you received the reprimand letter, you literally said to a classroom full of kids ‘Playing this might get me fired?’” questioned McCarty.

“As a joke, yes,” Hawn said.

Despite his dismissal, a handful of past and present students continue to voice their support for the former contemporary issues teacher.

Hawn taught at the high school for more than a decade and had a clean record before his firing according to school officials.

“I’m shocked and astounded that a teacher would play a video that in regardless of the topic to students this age,” said Dr. Cox, the recently retired director of schools. “That just crossed every line and boundary.”

Dr. Cox will finish his testimony Tuesday ahead of Hawn’s case being presented before the hearing officer.

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