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A spokeswoman says Bigham refused mediation; Bigham says troubles began over his sexual orientation



TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The 2015 Oregon Education Association Teacher of the Year Brett Bigham, a transistion skills teacher at Multnomah Education Service District, was terminated after being put on administrative leave March 20. The district says Bigham refused to work with them and was not engaged in his classroom. Bigham says it is retailiation for his filing a complaint of descrimination based on his sexuality.

Brett Bigham, Oregon's 2014 Teacher of the Year and the Oregon Education Association's 2015 Teacher of the Year, has been terminated from his position as a transitions teacher for 18-to-21-year-olds with developmental disabilities at the Multnomah Education Service District.

(Read the district's press release.)

Bigham has been in a dispute with his district that he says began with his public disclosures of his homosexuality. The fight has evolved into two complaints to the Bureau of Labor and Industries and two at the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission.

Laura Conroy, a spokeswoman for the district, says Bigham's termination was because he refused mediation.

"It was a difficult decision," Conroy says. "It’s not what we hoped for. Brett is a great teacher."

Conroy echoed criticism found in an Oct. 20, 2014 district-funded investigation that Bigham had let his Teacher of the Year status go to his head and lead to too many absences.

(Read the investigation.)

"Our hope was that after he concluded his 2014 Teacher of the Year duties that he would reengage and focus on the classroom for the 2014-15 school year,” Conroy says, adding that "excessive time away and distraction during class time” continued to occur.

Bigham says the basis for their decision is “a complete load of crock” and that they skipped over the standard procedure for termination of a contracted teacher.

“I believe this is more bullying and harassment because I refuse to sign their nondisclosure agreement,” he says.

Conroy says the district supported Bigham’s Teacher of the Year status through two months of paid leave. Bigham disputes that claim, arguing that he took a total of 15.5 days off for Teacher of the Year duties, plus five sick days.

Michael Lindblad, Oregon's 2015 Teacher of the Year says that while the number of absences is subject to negotiation with the district, responding to requests to speak is a big part of the honor.

“At the National Teacher of the Year conference, they train you to go out and use this opportunity to go out and make change in the world,” Lindblad says, noting that 20 states give a year off to their Teachers of the Year.

Bigham says that in addition to being the first openly gay Teacher of the Year, the first Teacher of the Year outside of the K-12 grades and the first concurrent ODE and OEA Teacher of the Year, he is now probably the first-ever unemployed Teacher of the Year.

“More power to them for firing me on lies, because I can prove to them that they are wrong,” he says.


By Shasta Kearns Moore
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