A student teacher in the Beaverton School District who has been summarily dismissed from his work suspects that his sexual orientation is the reason he has been booted from the school district.
Seth Stambaugh, 23, a graduate teaching student at Lewis and Clark college, was placed in Beaverton Student District as a student teacher in a 4th and 5th grade class at Sexton Mountain, a public Beaverton elementary. He worked there for a couple weeks preparing for the school year.
But just after school started, Stambaugh's teaching partner called him aside told him a parent had filed a strange complaint: that Stambaugh was dressed inappropriately. On the day of the complaint, says Lake Perriguey, a lawyer who is now working pro-bono of Stambaugh's case, Stambaugh was wearing pressed slacks, a button-up oxford shirt, and a cardigan that was a gift from his grandfather. The principal did not take any action.
Later in the week, Stambaugh was leading a journaling activity in the classroom when one of the students asked whether Stambaugh was married. Stambaugh said he was not and, when the student asked why, replied that it would be illegal for him to get married because he "would choose to marry another guy." The student pressed further, asking if that meant Stambaugh liked to hang out with guys and Stambaugh responded, "Yeah." That was the end of the conversation.
After that, says Perriguey, word of the short conversation apparently got back to parent who had previously complained about Stambaugh's appearance. The parent called the school and threatened to remove his child from the classroom.
On September 15th, the principal of Sexton Mountain called the Beaverton School District and told them that Stambaugh was barred from teaching in the district. Stambaugh was told that the comments he had made about his marital status were "inappropriate."
"There's no factual dispute about what happened," says Stambaugh. "The question is whether we tolerate what happened in this state and this culture."
Beaverton School District spokeswoman Maureen Wheeler stresses that Stambaugh was never technically an employee of the school district, since he was working through Lewis and Clark, and therefore it's not accurate to say he was "fired." "It’s not an employee issue, we requested a change of placement for this teacher," says Wheeler. Lewis and Clark, she explains, made the final call on what would happen to Stambaugh. (SEE UPDATE BELOW)
Wheeler said she did not know the specifics of the conversation or why it was deemed "inappropriate" and would say only, "There were the concerns about the conversation with a fourth grade student."
"The district’s policy and practice is nondiscrimination. We seek diversity in our hiring and we create safe and inclusive environment for students and staff," added Wheeler. In 2008, a former theater teacher sued Beaverton School District for allowing a work environment that "harassed, intimidated and humiliated" him when he produced "The Laramie Project."
Lawyer Perriguey says there was an effort to reinstate Stambaugh, since he had done weeks of prep work for the specific class. But over recent weeks, Beaverton has defended their action as justified and Stambaugh remains on the blacklist. "It was a real loss not just for him but for all his students who have been denied their student teacher," says Perriguey.
Right now, Stambaugh's looking at trying to get a new student teaching job, maybe in the Portland school district. "He's looking at all of his options right now. His primary concern has always been to be a good teacher and pursue his education," says Perriguey. "Hopefully, he'll find a place at a school that doesn't discriminate."
UPDATE 10/1 9 am: Lewis and Clark spokeswoman Jodi Heintz says there's a "discrepancy" in Beaverton School District's characterization of the incident. "We categorically deny that we had the final call on what happened with Seth," says Heintz. Instead, Lewis and Clark received a phone call that Stambaugh had been removed from the school. Usually when there is a conflict between a student teacher and a school, someone from Lewis and Clark sits down and talks it out with the school. In this case, there was no discussion, says Heintz. "The fact that we were completely cut out of the process was an aberration," she says.