HOPS suit plaintiff removed from student teaching position
By DENISE H. BOWMAN
of The Mirror staff
STATE COLLEGE One of the plaintiffs in an equity suit which charges Penn State with discrimination against homosexuals was relieved of his student teaching duties at the Park Forest Junior High School Tuesday.
State College Area School District officials said they. requested the removal of 21-year-old senior Joseph Acanfora Monday night because the objectives of the group which Acanfora is representing in the suit “are not compatible with the educational policies of the public school.”
Acanfora is one of the four student plaintiffs in a suit based on Penn State’s denial of a student: group charter to “The Other Vision – Homophiles of Penn State (HOPS). In announcing their intention to file suit with the county cout of common pleas Fridy, the: plaintiffs charge that Penn State’s decision to deny HOPS a charter was “arbitrary and capricious and directly in conflict with the 14th Amendment.
Acanfora told The Mirror Tuesday, that he had received no official reasons for his removal from the school; but he added that one school staff member unofficially told him the action resulted from his affiliation with HOPS, and not from the lawsuit.
“I feel my outside activities have no bearing on my teaching performance,” he said “or my ability to fulfill my duties in the classroom. I feel I am completely in the: right – morally, socially, legally and constitutionally.”
Robert C. Campbell, assistant superintendent for instruction. in the school district, said, however, that “broadly stated,” Acanfora’s affiliation. with HOPS could “contribute to ineffectiveness in his position” because of public opinion.
Campbell explained that the district expected “considerable public displeasure” and thought it would “get a number of complaints from parents” because HOPS’ objectives “are not those commonly accepted in this community.”
Acanfora, in a press conference before filing the suit Friday, said the objectives of the group are educational in nature and attempt to provide information about homosexuality within the confines of existing state, federal or local laws.
HOPS attorney in the lawsuit, Leonard I. Sharon, said at that press conference that the homophile organization does not advocate sodomy or homosexuality. Rather, he said, it provides a vehicle by which persons can find out more about it, where homosexual persons can discuss their mutual problems and where both homosexuals and heterosexuals can work to change existing sex laws.
School district officials admitted that there is “no question as to (Acanfora’s) performance as a student teacher” and said that the district had received no complaints or phone calls, to date, about the student teacher.
Acanfora said he had spent six and one-half weeks in Park Forest Junior High School on a program required by law for teacher certification, as an instructor in earth sciences for the ninth grade and biology for the seventh grade.
He said he “had no idea that anything was going wrong” until Monday night when he received a call from his Penn State supervisor telling him not to report to the junior high the following day but to meet with associate dean, of education, A. Madison Brewer, and the supervisor at 7:45a.m. instead.
The student teacher said the two Penn State officials told him they did not know how this action would affect the degree he expected to receive in secondary education in June. “They told me that would be discussed after the official reason from the school district was received,” he said.
Campbell said that a meeting between Acanfora and Penn State officials had been planned for Friday but Acanfora told The Mirror that “this is the first I’ve heard about it.”
Asked what policies Acanfora’s HOPS affiliation violated, Milller said, “this administration is responsible for ~the conduct of the schools in conjunction with the policies and procedures recognized by society today.
Campbell said the school district “has no responsibility” for making recommendations about. Acanfora’s accreditation as a teacher or notifying him about the reasons behind his removal. “We assumed the University would take care of this,” he said.
Neither Brewer nor George Weigand, Acanfora’s supervisor, were available for comment Tuesday night, but a Penn State spokesman said the university does receive some requests to relieve student teachers. “This is not common,” he said, “but it does happen.”
Both the university and school district officials said the relationship between Penn State and the district is that of “guest to host.” Since Acanfora was considered a guest within the school. district, Campbell said he thought “the university felt an obligation to inform us of this particular situation.”
Acanfora said that he plans “some kind of legal action” so he can finish his practicum, “but I don’t know what.” Miller said that if the student teacher brings about some kind of action, “I would recommend that the board defend the district’s decision.”