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Take Note: Civics lesson

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It's the kind of thing that gives some adults nightmares. Michael W. Maynard of Crete, Ill., is back in court fighting for his teaching job--haunted by a 1974 conviction for misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

Under a 1985 law, Illinois requires a criminal-background check of teaching candidates to weed out people convicted of various felonies and drug crimes. After a full year as a substitute biology teacher at Bloom High School in Chicago Heights, Mr. Maynard was informed early this year that a minor drug charge during a long-ago traffic stop is enough to keep him out of Illinois classrooms.

When he was 20, he was arrested for having less than half an ounce of marijuana--enough for four or five joints, according to William J. Borah, Mr. Maynard's lawyer. Mr. Maynard was convicted and fined $100.

"If there was a comparable statute for all professions, most of us baby boomers would be unemployed," said Mr. Borah, who is pressing a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court. He is also seeking a pardon from Gov. Jim Edgar and amendments to the background-check law.

The Illinois law that bars Mr. Maynard from teaching does not exclude teaching candidates convicted of murder or attempted murder. And teaching applications do not ask job candidates to reveal if they have been convicted of misdemeanors.

"This was another great idea taken by the legislature and made mediocre," said Mr. Borah, who said that all felons should be barred from classrooms.

He added that Mr. Maynard had won high marks as a teacher 22 years after his conviction.

When Lynda N. Byrd, the principal at Bloom High, informed Mr. Maynard that he could no longer work in the district, she wrote: "Mike, please be reassured that this is not a reflection upon your work record at Bloom High School. You have given fine service to the school and its students."

For now, Mr. Maynard is working as a heavy-machinery salesman and hoping to find a way back into teaching. Before two stints as a substitute, Mr. Maynard worked in private business and also served as a top aide to a former Illinois lieutenant governor.

"But teaching is what he loves," Mr. Borah said.

Mr. Maynard was teaching social studies when the marijuana charge came to light. Now, he is learning civics the hard way.

--Lonnie Harp

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