Teacher Fired In Hemp Controversy Wins Appeal

Teacher Fired In Hemp Controversy Wins Appeal
Posted by FoM on November 12, 2001 at 19:48:27 PT
By Louise Taylor 
Source: Lexington Herald-Leader 
Donna Cockrel, the fifth-grade teacher whose pupils actor Woody Harrelson taught about the merits of industrial hemp, will have her day in court to argue that she was fired from Simpsonville Elementary School because of her controversial choice of guests. In a vehement opinion issued yesterday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled that a lower court had erred when it threw out Cockrel's lawsuit against the Shelby County Public School District before the case went to trial. 
Although neither the Kentucky Education Association nor any other teachers' group joined in Cockrel's appeal, the case could have implications for many teachers. The appellate court's three-member panel unanimously said schoolteachers retain the right to free speech not just in the schoolhouse but also in the classroom. "Teachers don't lose their First Amendment rights because they're teachers," said Cockrel's attorney, Eugene Mooney. "There's not a special rule for teachers  not even fifth-grade ones. "The most terrifying aspects of the lower court's ruling and of the school board's argument was that they seemed to assert that school officials have complete control over classroom teachers' every utterance and that they could take retaliatory action if, as in this case, what the teacher said upset the community." Cockrel was at the center of a publicity maelstrom in 1996 and 1997, when Harrelson, an outspoken advocate of industrial hemp, made two trips to here classroom and planned a third. Each time he was accompanied by a large media entourage, bearing cameras and other tools of the news trade. News of at least one classroom visit was broadcast worldwide on CNN, inspiring letter to Cockrel from as far away as Brazil. Each of Harrelson's visits was approved by school leaders in advance, but the backlash from parents was severe. Appeals Judge Eugene Siler, Jr., writing in a concurring opinion issued with the unanimous majority ruling yesterday, took issue with the Shelby County school system. "On the face of it, it appears inappropriate for a fifth-grade class to have a celebrity speaker on a matter as complicated as legalizing industrial hemp," Siler wrote. "However, the school approved in advance the subject matter and the speaker. It must now pay the penalty for giving prior approval, because it cannot now be heard that such conduct by Cockrel was disruptive." After the media blitz on Harrelson's visit, several parents wrote complaining about Cockrel and the message from Harrelson that she was helping spread among her young students. Harrelson has been a staunch advocate of hemp as an alternative crop to tobacco. The crop is illegal in Kentucky because it is the same plant as marijuana, although it lacks sufficient narcotic ingredients to have the same drug-related effect on people. In July 1997, Cockrel was fired. The school district detailed 17 reasons for her termination, including insubordination, her disparagement of the school's "Just Think" curriculum, her derisive comments about Simpsonville Elementary principal Harry Slate and other teachers and incompetency. The appellate court noted that some of the misconduct allegations by the school predated Harrelson's visits and were egregious enough to merit Cockrel's termination. However, not once before Harrelson's visits did the school reprimand Cockrel. "Cockrel's conduct toward the principal and other teachers my very well have supported a dismissal of cause," Siler wrote, "but the school took no action until after the community became agitated following Harrelson's visit." Matthew Moony, another of Cockrel's attorneys, said that school had praised Cockrel before Harrelson's visits got administrators dunked into a hot water bath of public opinion. "Not only was she not reprimanded, she was a stellar teacher," he said. "She got awards." The school district's attorney could not be reached for comment. Cockrel brought hemp into her curriculum as part of an agricultural class about alternative crops that could help save trees and the environment. In addition to classes about hemp, she taught about flax and other fibrous crops, none of which raised a ruckus, or "hemp hoopla" as Cockrel calls it. In addition to attacking the U.S. District Court's dismissal of Cockrel's case and ordering it to trial, yesterday's appellate ruling challenged the opinions of two other appeals court circuits. The other two circuits have ruled that a teacher speaks as an employee on a private matter  not as a citizen  and therefore has no free-speech rights. "This essentially gives a teacher no right to freedom of speech when teaching students in a classroom, for the very act of teaching is what the employee is paid to do," Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote in yesterday's unanimous opinion. "Thus, when teaching, even if about an upcoming presidential election or the importance of our Bill of Rights, the Fourth and Fifth Circuits' reasoning would leave such speech without constitutional protection." Since she was fired in Shelby County, Cockrel has moved to Detroit, where she is teaching elementary school and putting her twin daughters through college. Yesterday, she was visiting her parents in the Eastern Kentucky town of Lynch. "I feel great," she said. "This is long overdue. But I have gone on as life presented itself. We exist to give glory to God and I have just gone on teaching." And filming: On Nov. 17, a documentary about Cockrel's legal wrangle and industrial hemp is to debut at a Dallas film festival. Complete Title: Teacher Fired In Hemp Controversy Wins Federal Appeal To Reinstate SuitNews article courtesy of Mapinc. Newshawk: Mike D.Source: Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)Author: Louise Taylor Published: November 11, 2001Copyright: 2001 Lexington Herald-Leader Contact: hleditorial Website: Article:Harrelson: We Must Ease Up on Earth Hemp Archives
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Comment #7 posted by ekim on October 05, 2012 at 18:33:39 PT
wish Woody would make that film
and roll in all the States Governors that have vetoed \hemp bills its just a cryin shameplease President Obama stand up for your old State its broke help create the jobs of today.When Mitt looks you in the eye and says you spent billions on green energy i am asking you to say yes and i am going to invest in Hemp farming as well.
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Comment #6 posted by i420 on November 13, 2001 at 04:40:01 PT
"On the face of it, it appears inappropriate for a fifth-grade class to have a celebrity speaker on a matter as complicated as legalizing industrial hemp," Siler wrote. 
complicated ??? algebra maybe hemp not this issue is a no brainer for fifth graders its those idiots higher up that don't get it.The crop is illegal in Kentucky because it is the same plant as marijuana, although it lacks sufficient narcotic ingredients to have the same drug-related effect on people. IT IS NOT THE SAME PLANT IT IS A RELATED PLANT I can't wait to see this movie hope it gets out there soon.
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Comment #5 posted by FoM on November 12, 2001 at 21:24:40 PT
freedom fighter
This is not good. We watched a news program on World Link that talked about why we are hated and it was correct. I never noticed this channel bfore but I will be checking it more frequently now. They said if you say anything against the war you are really stepping on dangerous ground. They said they cut off controversial calls on the regular news channels and I've seen them do that since September 11th.
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Comment #4 posted by freedom fighter on November 12, 2001 at 21:13:52 PT
PREVENTED BY ARMED MILITARY FROM FLYING TO GREENS MEETING IN CHICAGOArmed government agents grabbed Nancy Oden, Green Party USA coordinating committee member, Thursday at Bangor International Airport in Bangor Maine, as she attempted to board an American Airlines flight to Chicago."An official told me that my name had been flagged in the computer," a shaken Oden said. "I was targeted because the Green Party USA opposes the bombing of innocent civilians in Afghanistan."Oden, a long-time organic farmer and peace activist in northern Maine, was ordered away from the plane. Military personnel with automatic weapons surrounded Oden and instructed all airlines to deny her passage on ANY flight. "I was told that the airport was closed to me until further noticeIt's official now, Green Party members are terrorists...ff
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Comment #3 posted by FoM on November 12, 2001 at 21:00:18 PT
Strange Days
Patrick these are strange days. I was finally looking at life with a little more hope and then the plane crash today. It kicked in the same oh my panick thing again. Even though this crash might not be terrorist related it still is tripping the same trigger for many of us I'm sure. I wasn't shocked by today and that bothers me that things don't shock me as frequently if that makes sense. I'm really fine though just saying how I looked at today.
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Comment #2 posted by Patrick on November 12, 2001 at 20:25:57 PT
Strange Days
DEA raids cannabis clubs, teacher wins federal appeal for teaching hemp to 5th graders, planes fly into buildings, bombs drop in from seemingly out of nowhere, what strange days indeed these days are. Am I confused, or is it all the mixed signals? And I am not confused! NOT NOT NOT I tell ya.
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Comment #1 posted by E_Johnson on November 12, 2001 at 20:00:35 PT
Teachers as victims of self-involved parents
Poor teachers, what they have to put up with.Many parents treat their children in such a way that these children are not fit to come to school and be civilized and socialized beings. What are the teachers to do? They get blamed when home problems contribute to low test scrores and learning problems and disruptive behavior on the part of the students. And now we have parents are trying to inflict the same control over the teachers that the parents WISH they could inflict over their children -- but can't, because they don't have the time.They don't have time to police everything that comes towards their child so instead they police the educational system.It's much easier to be a member of an angry pressure group than it is to be a truly involved parent.That's why we have drug testing at schools and very little mental health assistance to speak of for children whose coping problems don't include drugs.In the end, it's the children who are being let down. And shut down, by their parents. 
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