The Missoula County Schools Board of Trustees met Jan. 29 to discuss an alleged violation of biased teaching and convene a complaint hearing. Big Sky High School science teacher Kathleen Kennedy says it was more like “a witch hunt.”
In October, Kennedy and fellow teacher Mark Moe showed videos in their respective classes. Moe presented Rage on the Radio, a PBS film about how right-wing shock jocks distort public discourse by dehumanizing those with opposing viewpoints. Kennedy showed her wildlife biology class The Story of Stuff, which argues that the traditional method of consumption in the United States should be more cyclical.
Mark Zuber’s daughter, a senior at Big Sky High School, attended both classes. When Zuber found out what his daughter had been watching, he wasn’t happy and set into motion a lengthy complaint process.
Zuber emphasizes that he doesn’t want to censor any teachers, only to ensure that material is presented objectively. As such, he spent over 100 hours seeking to prove that Kennedy and Moe violated the district’s academic freedom policy because they didn’t show opposing viewpoints. In the end, the board decided that Moe had not crossed the line but agreed Kennedy was in violation of the policy. Both votes ended 4-3.
In an emotional appeal at the complaint hearing, Kennedy told the board: “The economy is in the tank and we’re going about our lives like there’s nothing going on and I really need us to think about our resource use and the situation we’re in as a nation. I said ‘I want you to indulge me for a minute because I want us to have a conversation.’ And if I can’t do that I will tender my resignation. I’m not here to be restricted in my speech. These are young adults going into a complex world and they need to be prepared to listen to all kinds of perspectives. I presented that perspective to provoke them.”
Jack Sturgis, the District 5 chair of the teachers’ union, says the board stepped outside its boundaries.
“Unless they’re sitting in that classroom, and see how these materials are presented, you don’t really have any idea how those materials are used,” Sturgis says. “It’s almost like the board did exactly what they accused the teacher of, which is they were biased on a subject they don’t really know much about.”