Teacher and war mom fired for discussing protest crusades for vets
Jennifer Van Bergen
RAW STORY caught up with Deb Mayer at Cindy Sheehan’s anti-war protest in Crawford. Mayer was fired for being outspoken about Iraq in the classroom. Her son is a nuclear engineer in the Navy.
Deb Mayer was fired when one of her fourth grade students told a parent Mayer was encouraging students to protest the pending invasion of Iraq. Mayer says she was discussing a current events reading assignment from a Time Magazine issue for children on Iraq, including a section on antiwar demonstrations; a child asked her if she would march in a protest, and Mayer replied by discussing peaceful alternatives to war.
The parent—who Mayer asserts was a postal worker-literally “went postal” at a subsequent meeting with the principal, demanding that Mayer never mention peace in class again. The principal, rather than protecting Mayer’s rights, expressed her expectation that Mayer would comply with the parent’s demand.
According to Mayer, the principal said: “I think she can do that. I think she can not mention peace in the classroom.”
Mayer says she found it difficult not to teach peaceful approaches to students or mention peace in the classroom. She was subsequently reported again by the same child and at the end of the year, and her contract was not renewed. The school system, she says, noted she could be fired without cause.
She is now suing for her original job, compensation for lost wages, and/or to have her record cleared. She filed suit against the Monroe County Community School Corporation in Bloomington, Indiana in Oct. 2004 for $25,000 and unspecified damages.
Calls placed to the Monroe Country Community School system were not returned.
Mayer described her meeting with the Indiana parent to RAW STORY.
She says the parent asked her, “What if you had a child in the service?!” to which Mayer responded, “I do!” She says she tried to explain to the parent that her son—who is a Naval nuclear engineer—serves his country but that didn’t preclude him from believing in peaceful alternatives.
The parent claimed she was unpatriotic and anti-Bush. Mayer says she expressed no such sentiments; she felt she was only teaching about the right to dissent and finding peaceful solutions.
When Peace Month was supposed to be observed at the school, Mayer says, the principal abruptly cancelled it.
The Indiana mother managed to obtain a similar teaching position in Boca Grand, Florida, a hotbed of Bush supporters.
“Most of the students and their parents knew Bush personally,” Mayer asserts.
Mayer says the administrator had no difficulty hiring her despite what happened at her prior job, but when he left and Mayer was considered for his position, her previous work history became public. Not only did she not get the administrative position, for which she was qualified, but she was dimissed, again.
After 22 years of teaching, she can’t find a job. She is now living with her older son, a doctor, in Madison, Wisconsin.
Mayer says she had a difficult time finding an attorney, and her case has attracted scant media attention. She believes that there are probably many more like her whose cases we don’t know about.
Recently, she started a charity for returning vets. Her group, www.sharethesacrifice.org, is intended to provide financial assistance to returning GIs.
We “must do more for our vets since our government seems determined to do less,” she says.
“These people should be treated like heroes instead of being homeless and depressed,” she told the Capitol Times in April.
Most important to Mayer now is the fact that her 26-year-old son is being reassigned to a Naval post in Afghanistan. The Nuclear engineer is being redeployed without his unit and he has not been told for what duty.
Mayer says she’s been told by other soldiers that some are being pulled out of different departments to go to Afghanistan to guard oil pipelines. She wonders how his skills might be of use there And she worries about depleted uranium, nuclear tests and other dangers.
When Mayer was fired, her son was at sea on the USS Nebraska. He was offered an early release if he shipped to Afghanistan: six months there and he’d get out a year early. She doesn’t know whether this agreement was put into writing and isn’t sure whether it will be honored in light of the military’s stop-loss program.
Originally published on Wednesday August 31, 2005.