Pressure charged in teacher removal



of The Mirror staff

STATE COLLEGE — A school district official admitted Thursday that Penn State exerted “considerable pressure” on the school district to request the removal of the student teacher who filed an equity suit against the university last week.

The official, who requested not to be identified because of “possible retribution,” charged that Penn State used the State College Area School District to “do their dirty work in trying to discredit the person who was suing them.”

The student-teacher involved is Joseph Acanfora, a 21-year-old senior majoring in secondary education, who was relieved of his student teaching duties at the Park Forest Junior High School Tuesday morning at the request of the school district.

The school district official said that the district “didn’t do anything it “probably wouldn’t have done anyway” in acquiescing to the so-called Penn State pressure. “We’re still a public institution,” he said, “and the public just wouldn’t like that kind of thing.”

The official school district statement on why Acanfora was relieved of his teaching assignment said the objectives of the organization to which he belonged -- “The Other Vision -- Homophiles of Penn State” (HOPS) -- are “not compatible with the educational policies of the public school.”

HOPS, whose members say it is an educational group to provide information about homosexuality, filed suit in Centre County Friday against Penn State and several university officials over the institution’s decision to deny HOPS a student charter.

Acanfora is a plaintiff in that suit, but school district personnel deny, officially, that his participation in the suit precipitated the district’s action. The official statement said the reason stemmed from his membership in the group and the nature of the organization.

The school district official said it was likely that the same action would have been taken, with or without pressure from Penn State, but added that -- until associate professor A. Madison Brewer notified the district of Acanfora’s affiliation with HOPS and the suit -- “no one was aware that anything was amuck in our offices.”

Meanwhile, an elementary school teacher in the school district whose husband works at Penn State charged that the university “used the school district as a pawn” so it could “get rid of a troublemaker academically so he can’t graduate in June.” She also refused to be identified.

The teacher, who said she and other teachers in her building were warned not to get involved in the situation, said Brewer’s call to the school district was “calculated to take advantage of the school district’s paranoia about public opinion” to “discredit the plaintiff in that suit.”

According to a spokesman for the school district, there was “no organized effort” to keep teachers from involving themselves in this issue. He said some building principals may have expressed “private, personal feelings” on the matter, but these were not official district policies.