Pittenger Announces Decision
By DENISE R. BOWMAN
of the Mirror staff
HARRISBURG — Joseph Acanfora III was certified Friday to teach in Pennsylvania.
Secretary of Education John C. Pittenger announced his decision to certify the Brick Town, N.J. man late Friday afternoon, after returning to the capital city from a Penn State board of trustees meeting in State College.
In announcing his decision. Pittenger said he had consulted with the attorney general on the case and was informed hat “there is no legal barrier to granting the certificate to Mr. Acanfora.
“The part of the law which has been in question,” he continued, “is the statutory requirement (in the School Code) of ‘good moral character.’ There is no evidence of homosexual acts on part of Mr. Acanfora. He has not been convicted of any criminal violation in the commonwealth.”
The case came into Pittenger’s hands last June, when a six-man panel of Penn State deans was evenly split over whether the secondary education major possessed sufficient moral character to merit a Penn State endorsement of his application for certification.
At issue was Acanfora’s association with a homosexuality education group, Homophiles of Penn State (HOPS), and statements attributed to him in the university’s student newspaper, The Daily Collegian, concerning his alleged homosexuality.
Pittenger said yesterday the question of Acanfora’s moral character “arose out of (his) association with a group at Penn State that seeks civil rights for homosexuals. We cannot deny teaching certificates on a theory of guilt by association, nor may we act in a manner which infringes upon free speech.”
The education secretary said he based his decision on “Acanfora’s performance as a student and in his capacity as a student teacher. On both counts, he has performed consistently with the standards of the commonwealth and the Pennsylvania State University.”
Acanfora, who currently teaches junior high school level earth sciences in Montgomery County, Md., told the Mirror last night he thought “the outcome is really tremendous.”
Although Pittenger said he had written a letter to the 21-year-old Penn State alumnus, Acanfora said neither he nor his parents have received the letter yet.
“The most important part of this decision,” he said, “is not so much being allowed to teach in Pennsylvania but that the recognizes the right of all people -- heterosexual or homosexual – to their guaranteed Constitutional rights.
Acanfora said he notified his supervising principal of his background Friday morning. “I didn’t want him to hear about it from some irate parent waving a newspaper clipping,” he said.
He said his principal told him he was “not too upset” by the news of Acanfora’s eight months of notoriety in Pennsylvania and promised to take a wait and see attitude before taking any action in the matter.
“I’m heartened,” Acanfora said, “that the state (Pennsylvania) has taken a stand for equal rights for all people. I hope now they’ll back up that stand with some positive action by repealing repressive laws against all minorities.”
Pittenger, in a news release which accompanied his announcement, said he had written the following letter to Acanfora:
“I have reviewed with care your application for teacher certification and other records and materials pertinent to my decision. Your performance, academically and in the classroom as a student teacher, fully meets the requirements of the laws of this commonwealth.
“I therefore have decided to issue you a certificate to teach earth and space science.
“The role of a teacher in our schools is an important one. I would challenge you to be a learner as well as a teacher. Good luck to you.”
The education secretary, at yesterday’s press conference, said it was hard to anticipate public reaction to his decision, adding that “10 or 20 years ago” he would have faced criticism.
Reaction from Penn State took the form of no reaction at all yesterday. Penn State president John W. Oswald when asked about the case at a press conference after the board of trustees meeting, said he had not been informed of the decision and therefore could not comment on it.
HOPS members, on the other hand, had quite a bit of reaction, most of it directed at Penn State.
Acanfora said his parents were “jubilant” over the decision and had telephoned him shortly after the announcement to congratulate him.
As to returning to Pennsylvania to teach, Acanfora said he would “wait and see” how well he likes his present school district at the end of his one-year contract.