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Do not stand between teens and their math teacher

Submitted by on Wednesday, 20 May 2009 2 Comments
School board members in a tiny California town learned a new type of political calculus this week:

Former pro football player turned popular math teacher (+ bizarre allegation of plagiarism  and - tenure) X 115 irate students = your butt out of office.

That's what happened Tuesday to members of the Big Oak Flat-Groveland Unified School District board, which governs four schools in the Sierra Nevada foothills' Tuolumne County.

All five were recalled in a housecleaning so thorough that California political scholars can't recall anything like it in the state's history.

And it all started when Tioga High School's 115 students were angered last fall after pleading with the board not to fire math teacher Ryan Dutton. They tried boycotting classes when the board put Dutton, who isn't tenured, on unpaid leave and voted to not rehire him. Then the teens launched the recall petition.

"The fight's not over," student body president Elise Vallotton told the local newspaper back in the fall. "It's just begun."

It ended Tuesday, when more than 70 percent of those who voted backed the recall. Seventy percent? We can't even get 70 percent of the voters in this country to agree that the sun rises in the East.

Dutton is/was one of only 11 teachers at Tioga High School. His varsity basketball coach job still is being advertised on the district's Web site, but his teaching position is not. Glad to see officials have their priorities in order.

Sometime in September , someone alleged that Dutton had plagiarized a paper six months earlier for a course at California State University, Fresno, where he was working toward his teaching credential.

Dutton told The Sonora Union Democrat that the allegation was presented to him during a meeting with the schools superintendent and the district attorney, the upshot of which was that he would be out of a job at the end of the school year. They later suspended him without pay, something that seldom happens to public employees even if they're accused of a heinous actual crime.

Dutton said he was never told who his accuser was or how officials obtained any information about the allegation. He later said the paper was a draft that he rewrote when he realized it was too similar to one by a classmate he'd collaborated with had turned in.

Fresno State made it clear in December that Dutton was in good academic standing and any allegations were unfounded. Dutton asked for his job back, but the board refused. In the near-final twist, the district also refused to verify that Dutton had worked at Tioga, which blocked him from receiving his teaching credential.

Clearly, since most of the kids who got the recall rolling weren't old enough to vote Tuesday, there's something going on in the community besides Dutton. The smart money's on a split between high-growth areas where newcomers have settled in and the long-time establishment.

And it also could be that the board regarded Dutton, a native of Minnesota, as an outsider, not realizing he became a naturalized citizen by virtue of marrying a Tioga High graduate who now teaches journalism and science at her alma mater. He also was heavily involved in the community, sponsoring an annual football camp for youths.

No matter the reason the drive succeeded, Tioga High School's students learned a valuable lesson: That you can succeed in changing the course of your government, even your school. That every vote counts, even if you're not old enough to vote.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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2 Comments »

  • Porter said:

    Just for the record…there’s no “new growth” in Tuolumne County, though that was a reasonable guess. There was a new superintendent from out of state who misread the small schools she attempted to dominate. She had no idea that we would actually fight back.

  • Debra said:

    I was referring to the Lake Don Pedro area. I didn’t know that about the superintendent. It makes sense, not because I’m in favor of someone doing that, but because I’ve seen it happen before. Good for the community for fighting back.