Acanfora hopes to take appeal to Supreme Court
By DENISE R. BOWMAN
of the Mirror staff
Joseph Acanfora III, a 1972 Penn State graduate who was turned down last week by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in his bid to be reinstated in a teaching job, said Sunday he would “find some way’ to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Acanfora. whose legal troubles started two years ago when he was a Penn State senior seeking recognition for the Homophiles of Penn State (HOPS), a homosexuality education group, told the Mirror yesterday none of the courts has yet dealt with what he considers the central issue in his case: “Can you be gay (homosexual) and teach in the public schools?”
Commenting on the appeals court decision which Friday denied his petition for reinstatement as a Junior high teacher in Montgomery County Md, Acanfora said, “they try something new every time.”
The first time he went to court over what he maintains was his illegal transfer (and subsequent dismissal) from a classroom teaching position to a desk job, a federal court ruled against him citing statements he made to the press as the reason.
Acanfora then took to the appeals court which, he said, upheld him on the right to make comments to, and be interviewed, by the press saying “that was my right” -- but turned him down because he did not list HOPS in his application for employment.
In that ruling, the court said Friday Acanfora “purposely misled school officials so he could circumvent what he considered to be their unfair employment practices.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Acanfora said last night. “I remember when I saw the part (on the employment application) that said ‘extra curricular activities, Honors,’ I didn’t know whether they meant high school or college, so I put a couple down from each.”
Acanfora said there was no intent to mislead the Montgomery Co. school district, which hired him and subsequently transferred and fired him.
“I didn’t put that I was a member of the Peace Coalition either,” he said. “And that part about HOPS being an ‘officially recognized homosexual group’ (quoted in news reports of the decision) -- it wasn’t recognized. It wasn’t ‘recognized’ until after I graduated. Maybe that’s a small point, but HOPS wasn’t recognized.”
Acanfora said this latest court decision broadens the issue from whether a homosexual should be allowed to teach in public schools to one “which should interest, and certainly will affect, all teachers.”
Because of the court’s stand that the omission of HOPS on an employment application was sufficient grounds for transfer and-or dismissal, he said, “every school board could look at every teacher’s application and, if something was ‘omitted.’ the teacher could get fired.”
Acanfora said his attorneys “want to appeal this decision,” especially because of its broadened ramifications, but must await word from the National Education Assn.’s (NEA) DuShane Foundation (which funded his first appeal) about further funding.
“If they’ve gone this far,” he said of the NEA, “I don’t think they’ll stop now and on this note, but I don’t know.
“The basic issue is now becoming ‘what out of a teacher’s past can be used against him?” he said, “so I don’t think they’ll let it drop here.”
No matter what the NEA subsequently decides to do, he said, “I’ve got to find some way to appeal it to the Supreme Court. I just pray they’ll hear it.
“If the court goes against me on the big issue (whether a homosexual may teach in public schools), I wouldn’t like it” he said, “but at least I’d know where I stood. With this, it’s a new thing every time.”
Acanfora filed this most recent suit after the Maryland school district transferred him to the desk job just days after the announcement in Pennsylvania that his struggle for. certification as a teacher had been successful.
The struggle stemmed from his activities at Penn State with HOPS and ended with a ruling by the state education secretary that Acanfora possessed the state-mandated “good moral character’ needed for certification as a teacher.
Penn State had passed the decision on to the education secretary after a panel of college deans were deadlocked on the moral issue.
Publicity of the certification announcement reached Acanfora’s Maryland school district, where he was hired as a Junior high science teacher and he was immediately transferred to a desk job.
It was from that transfer, and his subsequent dismissal, that this latest series of court fights began.
In the meantime, the 23-year-old Penn State graduate, who has not had a teaching job in nearly two years, said he’s “thinking about writing a book. Now may not be the best time, with court appeals still going on, but I feel I have to get this all down on paper.
“Besides, I have a lot of time now.”