CENTRE DAILY TIMES

2-16-72

 

Student Teacher Ousted for Role In HOPS Suit

 

 

By JOAN A. KURILLA

Times Staff Writer

Dismissal of University student Joseh Acanfora, 21, from practice teaching at the Park Forest Junior High Schoo1 yesterday transcends his avowed membership with the Homophiles of Penn State (HOPS), Leonard Sharon, HOPS attorney said.

Mr. Sharon, who represented HOPS in a suit filed against the University Friday, compared the action to the firing of Angela Davis, a Communist, from her teaching position in a California college, and called it a civil rights issue.

“What they’re saying is that if you dare to speak out for your rights, you dare to be fired,” Mr. Sharon said. He is considering legal action.

Mr. Acanfora, “upset and at a loss for words” when he was told Monday night not to report at the school, said last night that he now fears for his chance of completing his student teaching, for his chance of graduation in the spring and for his chances of getting a job in the future.

In an impromptu news conference called at 6 p.m. yesterday, State College Area School District officials said that any district teacher who would be known as a homosexual, or affiliated with HOPS, or any similar organization, would be fired in action “consistent with this matter.”

Robert C. Campbell, assistant superintendent for Instruction, said the district is not assuming that Mr. Acanfora is a homosexual, and said that there was no question raised as to his performance as a student teacher. He said also that the school district assumes no responsibility as to his accreditation as a teacher.

Richard D. Burchill, junior high biology teacher to whom Mr. Acanfora was assigned for practice teaching, said, “As far as I’m concerned he did quite well in performing his duties as a student teacher.” He said he was unaware of the student’s HOPS membership before reading of the HOPS suit against the University.

Mr. Acanfora taught one class in earth and space science also with Roger P. Wurst; Park Forest teacher, who judged his teaching ability as average. Mr. Wurst said he was unaware of his student teacher’s HOPS membership until he heard of the dismissal.

Kenneth P. Bower, a graduate student at the University and supervisor to 22 student teachers, including Mr. Acanfora, said yesterday, “I can’t say anything about it. I just don’t want to.

Student teacher supervisors observe students in the classroom and have some responsibility for grading. University students who plan to teach in public schools must complete practice teaching satisfactorily for accreditation. Student teaching is done over a full 10-week term and carries 10 credits toward a degree.

Mr. Acanfora started teaching Jan. 3 and upon completion of this term has one more term to study before getting his degree in June.

He said he was called about 10:30 p.m. Monday by George A. Wiegand, director of the student teaching office at the University and was told not to report to the Park Forest junior high school Tuesday morning, but to report to him and Madison Brewer, associate dean of the College of Education, in Dr. Brewer’s office.

In the dean’s office yesterday morning he said he was told not to report back to the school at all. He was not reassigned to another school, and was given no reason for the dismissal, he said. Mr. Acanfora said he was told that he would be contacted after the University received an official reason for dismissal.

Mr. Weigand had “no comment to be make at the present time.” Dr. Brewer was in Altoona yesterday morning, then went to Philadelphia where his secretary said he would be unavailable by telephone because he would be observing student teachers in several schools.

Dr. Brewer told his secretary by telephone yesterday that he had nothing to say on the matter.

The school district’s official statement delivered at the news conference cited Mr. Acanfora’s membership with HOPS, and said action was based on a review by solicitor John Miller of the HOPS complaint filed against the University in Centre County Court Friday.

The complaint, based primarily on the University’s denial of a. charter to HOPS as a social and educational organization, was accepted for the University by attorney, Charles A. Schneider Monday. Mr. Schneider said attorneys are reviewing the complaint.

The University as defendant has 20 days in which to admit or deny the charges, or could file preliminary objections, he said.

The entire statement of facts in the complaint was reviewed by the school district administration district officials said.

“It was the consensus of opinion that the University should be requested to recall Joseph Acanfora from his assignment as a student teacher in the Park Forest Junior High School. The publicly announced objectives of the organization of which Joseph Acanfora is a member are not compatible with the educational policies of the public school. The University was requested on Feb. 14, 1972 to terminate Mr. Acanfora’s student teaching assignment at the Park Forest Junior High School,” the official statement said. It was initialed RCC.

Dr. Campbell said the decision was made after consultation with the school board following adjournment of its regular meeting Monday night. No action was required by the board, he said, and no action wass taken. The administration consulted also with the school principal, Lewis Rodrick; the district’s science coordinator, Dr. Robert Hillis, and others.

The question was raised, Dr. Campbell said, after he was called Monday by Dr. Brewer “who asked if I was aware that Mr. Acanfora was a party to a suit filed against the University, and indicated that he had some concern” over the issue.

Dr. Campbell said he had received informational calls Monday also from Mr. Rodrick and from one other administrator and one teacher not at the Park Forest school, both of whom he refused to identify.

He said he discussed the issue with Dr. Donald L Cameron, assistant superintendent in pupil personnel service, and with Mr. Miller. All three were with Dr. Campbell at the news conference.

Dr. Campbell said it would be difficult to review the school district’s entire educational policy. When asked what specific educational policy the dismissa1 involved, Mr. Miller responded.

“The school district is responsible for the conduct of the schools in keeping with the policies and practices as recognized by society today,” Mr. Miller said. “Society recognizes heterosexuality. Homosexuality is not recognized by society.”

Mr. Miller referred to the HOPS complaint against the University and the University’s previous denial of a charter to the group as being ‘‘in conflict with educational policies of the University. The public schools are involved with the education of much younger children.”

When questioned on his use of the word “homosexual” in relation to the Homophiles of Penn State, Mr. Miller said he recognized the difference in meaning of the two words, but referred to the complaint filed in court that “all the way through says ‘homosexual’ and refers to the ‘straight’ society and the ‘gay’ society.

“It is the school district’s opinion that Joe Acanfora’s association, once it became a matter of public knowledge could contribute to his ineffectiveness as a teacher,” Dr. Campbell said. Referring to “public displeasure,” he said homosexuality is “not commonly accepted.”

Student teachers are not affected by the Pennsylvania School Code, Mr. Miller said, which relates only to professional employees. Under the school code, a teacher can be dismissed only for incompetence, persistent violation of school law or participation in un-American activities.

Dr. Campbell said that the removal of student teachers in the past but said that all were on the basis of their inability to perform as a student teacher.

Yesterday’s action would not set a new policy, according to district officials. Each case would be judged on its own merit, Mr. Miller said. Dismissals are based on the premise that the school district is a “host” and the student teacher is a “guest,” they said.

Mr. Acanfora, who lives in New Jersey, said he is concerned with credit for the term, which as an out-of-state student cost him $600.

‘‘I’m sure it will be much more difficult for me to get employment, and it cou1d possibly hold up my graduation,’’ he said.

The HOPS attorney, Mr. Sharon, said he will file a preliminary injunction against the University on the original complaint Monday, and is now considering naming the State College School District to the body of the major complaint as well as asking for an injunction to obtain the immediate reinstatement of Mr. Acanfora to student teaching.

Mr. Miller said he would recommend that the Board defend its action, if necessary.

The HOPS complaint named Mr. Acanfora as one of four plaintiffs. Karen Schwartz, another HOPS member who filed as a plaintiff, said she has felt no direct affect since taking court action but added “this affects everyone personally.” Miss Schwartz is a graduate student in speech.

The two other plaintiffs, Barbara Speer, an undergraduate in education, and John Thorton, a graduate student in political science, are not HOPS members. Miss Speer was unavailable for comment last night.

Mr. Thorton who lives in State College with his wife, said he sees the district’s action as “an attempt to use the law to enforce a program of select education.”

“I’m a little surprised at the blatancy of the action. I would have expected a little more ‘subtlety,’ Mr. Thorton said of the Acanfora dismissal.

The HOPS organization, which meets tonight, will discuss the issue and consider any further action to be taken in the Acanfora case, Diane Whitney.