A Mississippi high school has been mired in anger this week after losing a beloved English teacher, Mary Porter, who resigned amidst an investigation. Her offense? Showing her 10th-grade class the violent, R-rated film “Dolan’s Cadillac,” reportedly as part of an assignment to compare the movie to an Edgar Allen Poe story. Now, in response to Porter's leaving, students are rallying around her through a barrage of social media and in-school protests — and allegedly harassing the students who complained about the movie in the first place.
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“My children are being threatened because they told. This has gotten so out of hand," Sammie Bateman, whose three kids attend Richland High School, tells Yahoo Shine through a Facebook message Wednesday. "I am so sad that the young people cannot separate the right to protest and advocate for what they think is right — an action I completely support when done in an orderly way and for a cause — and the need to retaliate.”
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Bateman complained to the Rankin County School District after one of her children (who is Asian American) told her mom that the 2009 thriller, starring Christian Slater and based on a Stephen King story, was filled with anti-Asian slurs. A statement provided by school district superintendent Lynn Weathersby describes what happened next: "A Richland High School teacher was put on administrative leave and resigned last week after reports of an inappropriate movie was being shown repeatedly in class. An investigation was conducted by Rankin County School District (RCSD). During the investigation information was revealed that RCSD is required to report to the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) as a possible violation of the Mississippi Educator Code of Ethics. RCSD has an obligation and our parents expect us to make sure our students are not exposed to inappropriate materials. During the course of the investigation the teacher resigned."
Porter, a 19-year teaching veteran, apologized to students through a message written on a classroom whiteboard, according to photos students posted to Twitter. “Kids, I want you to know that you are never too old to make a mistake, and I made a big one by playing a movie with my 10th-graders,” the message read. “I will forever be sorry for my error in judgment. I want you to know I love each of you and wish you only the best.”
Student response has been swift and unyielding, with an in-school poster campaign, an organized walkout on Tuesday, and a #BringMsPorterBack Twitter campaign calling for her return. Tweets have called Porter “the best teacher ever,” “my most favorite lady ever,” and “a great teacher and bowling coach.” Others made different points:
Meanwhile, Pedro Ingram, a 2012 Richland graduate and former student of Porter’s, tells Yahoo Shine through a Twitter message that this particular movie screening wasn't an isolated incident: “I've been shown rated R movies in school before that were for educational purposes, as well.”
Though Porter could not be reached for comment and her Facebook page could no longer be viewed on Wednesday, she did post a comment there on Tuesday, according to USA Today, expressing her appreciation for the positive outpouring: “This has been a most overwhelming day for me in many ways. As I trudge off to bed, I feel a lot of love floating around me! Thanks for all the comments and words of encouragement!”
Fired teachers recieving support from students have made headlines several times in the past year or so, including in Dallas, when students rallied in October around a Spanish teacher who was fired after administrators learned she had modeled for Playboy in the past. Previously, students protested the firings of two Catholic high-school teachers, one in Minneapolis and another in Philadelphia, who were let go for being gay. Some fired teachers do wind up getting reinstated. In New York, multiple teachers got their jobs back after being fired for offenses seemingly much more serious than showing a Stephen King flick — inappropriate touching of students and heroin possession, for example.
On the Facebook page of The Clarion-Ledger, one of the first to report the Richland High School story, a slew of commenters weighed in on Porter’s decision to show the film, with most appearing to be on her side. “Sad and horrible. We complain that we can't get quality teachers and now this one is being fired for teaching outside the box,” wrote one angered mom.
Bateman, for her part, is perplexed at the overwhelming support but notes in a Facebook post that she’s powerless over the situation. “So I made a statement to give the story more balance, maybe a mistake. I don’t know. But this is crazy,” she wrote, referring to how she spoke to local station WJTV. “Parents seem to be like, it’s totally ok that she did this. So oh well.”
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