PENDER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) – A social studies teacher at Topsail High School has been suspended after having students take a poll conducted by the Pew Research Institute to help them identify where they land on the political spectrum.
William ‘Hill’ Pearsall has worked for Pender County Schools since 1996 and has never faced any other disciplinary action, now he’s been suspended with pay, according to district spokesperson Bob Fankboner.
“William Pearsall was suspended with pay from his teaching/coaching position at Topsail High School. Mr. Pearsall is still employed by Pender County Schools. As this is a personnel issue, Pender County Schools cannot comment on the nature or length of the suspension,” Fankboner said.
In response to the suspension, one of Pearsall’s former students, Haley Woods, started an online petition to have him reinstated; so far, more than 2,000 people have signed it.
Woods says that Pearsall asked students in his American History class to take the political typology poll which aims to determine where on the political scale students fall. The assignment was optional, according to Woods, and if students did choose to participate, they were only graded on completion of the assignment — not based on answers. In fact, the answers to the survey were not revealed to Pearsall.
According to Woods, “Students who participated in the activity were only asked to submit a response to the following prompt: Is your placement on the political spectrum where you thought it would be?”
Following the assignment, a parent complaint was received by the schools.
“Upon parent complaint, Mr. Pearsall issued a public apology to the parents and students involved in the assignment for any confusion. After explaining the intended nature of the assignment, he was predominantly met with supportive and favorable responses,” according to Woods.
That was not the case for the Pender County Board of Education.
“However, according to the Board of Education, Mr. Pearsall violated N.C. Gen. Stat. § 115C-325(e)(1)a. through o., which essentially gives the Board the power to discriminate between “unreasonable” versus “reasonable requirements” for teachers (see N.C. Gen. Stat. § 115C-325(e)(1)j),” Woods said.
Part of that statute explores the suspension with pay of an employee of a public school and says a superintendent can do so if they believe there is cause for dismissal or demotion but requires an additional investigation. That employee may be suspended with pay for no more than 90 days.
“If the superintendent has not initiated dismissal or demotion proceedings against the career employee within the 90-day period, the career employee shall be reinstated to his or her duties immediately and all records of the suspension with pay shall be removed from the career employee’s personnel file at his or her request,” according to the state law.
WECT reached out to all members of the Pender County Board of Education, which includes Cindy Fontana, Brad George, Beth Burns, Don Hall, and Ken Smith, and none of them responded to a request for comment. As far as the petition goes, Pender County Schools is aware of it and said they welcome the discussion.
“We are aware of the online petition and the rights of citizens to express their feelings, which we welcome as part of the public comment portion of the Pender County Board of Education meetings whether in person or by leaving a statement by calling 910-663-3501,” Fankboner said.
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