Up In Smoke

Ordered to take a drug test, veteran teacher and constitution crusader Sherry Hearn took a stand and lost her job.

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments
Ordered to take a drug test, veteran teacher and constitutional crusader Sherry Hearn took a stand and lost her job.

The police who swooped down on Windsor Forest High School one day last spring stirred little panic. In the 15 middle and high schools in Savannah, Georgia, drug and weapon sweeps are about as routine as field trips. At Windsor, it's the same drill every time. First the intercom squawks with the announcement of a "code 22," a signal to teachers that police are on the way. Next comes what is known as "lockdown." To make sure no one dodges the search, all 1,350 students are held in their classes for two or three hours as teams of county and campus police, each with a drug-sniffing German shepherd, comb the school room by room.

The search on April 4 came on the last day of classes before spring break, and the interruption was a welcome prelude to vacation for some. But not for Sherry Hearn. By the time officers reached her classroom, the social studies teacher was doing a slow burn. Hearn thought the searches a huge waste of time. Her principal, her colleagues, district officials—they had all heard Hearn blast the district's get-tough approach as overkill. Police treated the kids like criminals and stomped on their constitutional rights, she argued. Worse, as an employee in the Savannah-Chatham County school system, she felt complicit in the crime.

Tall and thin, Hearn, 48, now stood silently, her arms folded, as police instructed her students to file out of room F-9 and line up against a wall. She watched closely as an officer ran a hand-held metal detector up and down each student. Occasionally the device buzzed, and, amid nervous giggles, students emptied the keys from their pockets or pulled up their shirts to uncover metal belt buckles. Inside the classroom, meanwhile, an officer with the Chatham County police led a drug dog up and down the rows of desks.

Roughly two hours after the lockdown was announced, police left the building to search the parking lot. Tensions eased, and laughter rolled down the hallways as classes changed. But within minutes, the intercom squawked again: Someone had phoned in a bomb threat to the school, and the building had to be evacuated. Hearn groaned at yet another interruption, but she shepherded her charges out of her classroom, locked the door behind her, and left the building.

Sherry Hearn didn't know it then, but her 27-year teaching career in the Savannah schools was about to end. As she stepped outside the school, police buzzed around her old gray Oldsmobile: One of the drug dogs had found a half-smoked marijuana cigarette in the ashtray. She denied the dope was hers, but district policy mandated that she now take a drug test. She was ordered to report to a lab for a urinalysis within two hours.

In those two hours, Hearn would wrestle with a decision that should have been quite easy to make. Take the drug test and she saved a sterling teaching career highlighted by her 1994 award as Savannah's Teacher of the Year. Follow policy and she returned to her life's work, the classroom she loved, and the security of a full retirement pension in three years.

But the choice was not that simple. She thought the order to pee in a cup humiliating and degrading. After her sermons about the unconstitutionality of drug searches and testing, her colleagues would think her a phony. And nearly a generation of Windsor students would think back to her lectures about George Washington, Martin Luther King, and other men of principle. They would remember her saying over and over that sometimes you have to fight for what you believe in. And now, with the clock ticking and her job on the line, Hearn decided to do exactly that.

"I'm probably the only person I know of who went all through high school and all through college and never touched or even saw marijuana, and that is the truth. "

Sherry Hearn

A lthough Sherry Hearn as a teen-ager grew up amid the tumult of the 1960s, she says the counterculture, protests, and drugs of that era largely passed her by. She didn't have time for any of that. She and Dick Hearn started dating when she was 14 and he was 15. They married before their senior year. An A student at Savannah High School—she graduated 13th in a class of 666—Sherry whipped through Georgia Southern College (now University) and earned her education degree in under three years, all the while working part time so Dick could go to college, too. "I'm probably the only person I know of who went all through high school and all through college and never touched or even saw marijuana," Hearn says. "And that is the truth. It's interesting almost to the point of being insane, isn't it?"

Hearn's first job in the Savannah-Chatham County school system was teaching 7th grade. She thought she was doing a bang-up job until one day the president of the board of education asked to meet with her. "I thought, Dear God, I've either done something very, very good or very, very bad," Hearn remembers. "I was a first-year teacher, so man, I was punching all the cards and doing all the things I was told to do. I joined this. I joined that." But it was not Hearn's performance that the president wanted to discuss; he sold insurance for a living and wanted to make a client out of his rookie teacher. Hearn was insulted that a high-ranking district official would throw his weight around this way, but it was the first of several early incidents that she says taught her a lesson about the administrators bunkered in the downtown offices of the Savannah-Chatham County schools. "I pretty quickly learned that downtown was the enemy," Hearn explains. "They had nothing to do with my classroom or what I did, and I just really was interested in staying as far away from that as I could."

And she did. Hearn got her job at Windsor Forest High teaching social studies in 1972. For the next quarter century, she would throw herself into making 11th and 12th graders understand the guiding principles of their country. Her charges would soon be voting, she figured, and, because many would not go on to college, this was probably the last time they would weigh carefully their rights and responsibilities as citizens.

Hooking kids on history was no easy feat. Her career spanned an age in which cynicism toppled patriotism and a generation of kids came to be known as "slackers." But Hearn bowled over her students with her love of history. "Her passion for what she was teaching came out in everything she said," explains Kim Stover, a former student of Hearn's and now a Windsor senior. "She wanted you to love it as much as she did."

More than one student remembers Hearn's eyes filling with tears as she read the Declaration of Independence. "I really believe that I'm a superpatriot," Hearn says. "I don't wave flags. I don't salute. And I'm not inclined to goose step. But I really believe that the ideas and the conceptions of government and human freedom that we have in this country are the only workable solution for people to live decently together."

While some students joined her love affair with history, others simply loved Ms. Hearn. She challenged them to think, and, unlike other teachers, she never belittled the thoughts that she coaxed from them. And when she lectured, she spun such captivating tales that her students virtually lived history, their eyes smarting with the battlefield smoke of Bull Run or their ribs aching from the pounding spray of Bull Connor's fire hoses in Birmingham. "You'd walk through her door, and you'd be in a whole other world," says Marcus Smith, a student in Hearn's advanced-placement American history course last year.

As hard as Hearn tried to shut that door to outside intrusions, though, "downtown" always seemed to find a way to push the door open. "We've gone through superintendents like growing children go through shoes," she says. "Every five or six years, they leave, and every superintendent has this new idea for what's going to be this revolutionary change in the school. We've tried everything imaginable. That's why most teachers look at most reforms and they just yawn and say, 'Been there, done that. Please leave me alone and just let me teach.' "

And if Hearn wasn't left alone to teach, she fought with the fierceness of a bear protecting her cubs. At times, her grievances were small. When Windsor's newly acquired copying machine continually jammed with the cheap paper issued by the district, Hearn hounded the district's purchasing officer. Finally, a truck pulled up to Windsor carrying reams of higher-grade stock. She remembers, "I went through a period for about two or three years about then where I decided, By God, I will not take no for an answer when it's stupid."

Other times, Hearn battled for dramatic change. Once, tired of school board decisions that she thought wrongly meddled in the classroom, she fought for and won the creation of a board seat for a teacher representative. Such crusades won admiration and respect from many of her colleagues. In fact, her crusade to rewrite an exam schedule bitterly hated by Windsor's teachers prompted them to nominate her for Teacher of the Year honors.

But occasionally, Hearn rubbed some on the Windsor staff the wrong way. She admits to being a harsh critic of teachers she felt weren't making the grade; she has declined to join a union in large part because she thinks they protect mediocre teachers. At faculty meetings, when prickly situations arose, friends sometimes gripped her knee under the table as a warning to keep her mouth shut. "There's never, ever a situation that comes along that one has to wonder where Sherry stands," says Anita Varner, a longtime friend and colleague of Hearn's. "She is very willing to let one know her position—especially if it's an issue where she feels something is wrong. She's always willing to say exactly what she thinks."

Such off-the-cuff candor sometimes sabotaged Hearn's campaigns to change policy, though. "To be very honest, she did give people higher up hell," Varner says. "And sometimes, she was not nice about it, either. She could have a little temper fit and say all sorts of things that really aren't the courteous or nice thing to say if you want to get things done. But that's just the way God made her."

In February 1992, the Savannah-Chatham County school administration adopted a "zero tolerance" policy.

Savannah launched its war on drugs in the early 1990s. At that time, a teenage gang of cocaine dealers was terrorizing the city. The gang's leader, Ricky Jivens, demanded that members kill to prove their loyalty, and soon this quiet town, famous for Spanish moss and Southern charm, posted a murder rate nearly equal to the nation's big-time crime capitals.

Jivens and his lieutenants were eventually arrested, and a few months after their conviction in February 1992, the Savannah-Chatham County school administration adopted a "zero tolerance" policy. The district was in many ways ahead of the curve. President Clinton and the Congress were still two years away from passing a law to withhold federal aid from states where schools did not expel students caught with drugs, alcohol, and weapons. The police lockdowns and searches were also the first of their kind in Georgia.

Savannah's schools did not have a severe drug problem at the time, says superintendent Patrick Russo. "There was nothing other than the idea that we should be proactive before the problem escalates to the point where we have to do something." Today, after more than 150 searches in the schools, many Savannah residents consider them a highly effective deterrent. Contraband is seldom found, Russo says, but "students are beginning to get some familiarity with the fact that we're not playing games. We're not tolerating any student who is in any way, shape, or form involved with drugs or alcohol or weapons."

On April 4, county and campus police assembled at about 8 a.m. in a shopping mall parking lot near Windsor, the traditional staging area for sweeps of the school. Timing of the searches is supposed to be secret, but Windsor students late for class and picking up breakfast at the nearby Burger King occasionally spot the gathering swarm of law enforcement officers.

During a November sweep, police reported to Windsor school administrators that Sherry Hearn was interfering.

This was to be the third search of Windsor in the 1995-96 school year. It would also be the year's third search where a member of the Hearn family would get swept up in controversy. During a November sweep, police reported to Windsor school administrators that Sherry Hearn was interfering. Hearn, however, claims that police overreacted when they overheard her answer to a student's question about why the searches upset her: "I said, 'Because I teach the Constitution.' And that's all I said." Regardless, Windsor principal Linda Herman made a point at every search thereafter of instructing officers to treat Hearn and her students with the utmost professionalism.

Then, on January 22, during the second sweep of Windsor, a police officer claimed that Hearn's 15-year-old son Richard "reeked" of marijuana. (According to a police report filed later, a drug-sniffing dog hit on Richard; the Hearns contend the dog passed by their son twice and never signaled to its handler.) Richard, who was working out in the weight room at the time, was taken aside and told to take off his shoes; his socks were also checked. Richard protested that the search violated his constitutional rights. The police report says he cursed the officers and describes him as "hostile, somewhat arrogant." No drugs were found.

"We went ballistic when we found out," Dick Hearn says. He and Sherry are confident that police targeted their son because of Sherry's opposition to the lockdowns; they believe Richard was the only one searched that day. Dick immediately contacted the American Civil Liberties Union about possible legal action and demanded a written report on the incident from the district—a report that would be written a month after the episode but not sent to the Hearns for another six weeks.

Several times she had complained to a member of the board of education that the district's enforcement of zero tolerance violated the Constitution.

The episode hardened Sherry's hatred of the district's hardball strategy to rid schools of drugs. She had sounded off about both the searches and the drug-testing policy at Windsor faculty meetings. Several times she had complained to John Matthews, a member of the board of education and a friend, that the district's enforcement of zero tolerance violated the Constitution.

On April 4, however, Hearn's words would be tested. After the building lockdown at Windsor, police searched the parking lot with the drug-sniffing dogs. When Chatham County Deputy Sheriff Kevin Street and his dog, Corporal Sonya, passed Hearn's 1980 Oldsmobile sedan, the dog sat—the alert that she detected an illegal substance. Street then allowed Sonya to jump through the car's open window, and she made a beeline for the ashtray. Campus police ran a field test on the hand-rolled cigarette found there and determined it was marijuana.

Inside the building, meanwhile, students released from the lockdown flooded the halls as they reported to third-period classes. A student passing Hearn in the hall told her that a police dog was in her car. She shrugged it off; the dog wouldn't find anything, she told the student. But a few minutes later, as the building was emptying for the bomb threat, an assistant principal hurried up to Hearn. The drug dog had zeroed in on her car, he said.

When Hearn approached the car, she says she saw one of the police officers stuffing items back into her son's book bag, which had been lying on the back seat. Asked to open the trunk, she complied, and Corporal Sonya jumped in, circled, and jumped out. Then police told Hearn about the reefer found in the car's ashtray and escorted her to the office of principal Herman.

When the marijuana was discovered, district policy No. 766, commonly known as the "drug-free workplace" policy, kicked in.

The bomb threat had proved a hoax, but Hearn's situation would not be so easily defused. In Herman's office, Hearn protested that the drug was not hers. She had no idea how the joint got in the ashtray, she explained. One of the electric windows in her car was not working and was stuck open; anyone could have stashed the pot there. Her objections mattered little at that moment, however. When the marijuana was discovered, district policy No. 766, commonly known as the "drug-free workplace" policy, kicked in. With Hearn in her office, principal Herman made several phone calls to central-office administrators to nail down 766's required procedures. Hearn, a deputy superintendent told her, had to report for a drug test within two hours or face possible termination. Herman repeated those words to Hearn and then asked the administrator to confirm that those were the proper instructions. Within minutes, the district sent a fax to the school notifying Hearn of her immediate suspension in accordance with 766.

She repeated her objections to the drug test as a violation of her constitutional rights. Dick would want me to take the test and be done with the mess, she told Herman. But how could I face my students? When Hearn continued to balk at the drug test, a campus police officer read her Miranda rights to her and said that she might be arrested on criminal charges of possession of marijuana.

Eventually, Hearn decided to page Dick—he's an electrical contractor—and call an attorney. As Hearn was leaving the office, Herman handed her a second fax from the central office, this one with instructions for the drug test. "I had been thinking and talking about this for three years, wondering why somebody didn't do something," Hearn says. "Now the ball was in my court."

Once home, Hearn phoned their family attorney. "I kept thinking, I'm right on this," Hearn remembers. "I knew if I could get her on the phone, she'd tell me, 'You're right, Sherry. Go for it. They can't do this to you.' " But the lawyer was in court and could not be reached.

Hearn's case had drawn more mail than any single incident since Georgia Governor Zell Miller moved to rid the state's flag of an inset of the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy.

About that time, Dick arrived home. "My first inclination," he says, "was, 'Get in the car, go to the lab, take the damn test, and forget it.' " He even persuaded Sherry to drive with him to the lab. But once there, they circled the building for maybe half an hour. As Dick drove, Sherry cried. They talked about how she would probably lose her job if she didn't take the test. Getting it back, they decided, would undoubtedly mean a court fight.

Still, Sherry couldn't bring herself to go into the lab. "I spent 27 years telling other teachers, 'Why don't you fight that? They can't make you do that. Stand up for yourself,' " she explains. "Teachers as a breed are just doormats. That's one of the things that I hate about the profession. So many teachers are just so uncommitted to anything but survival and getting by and following the program. And that's just not what you need.

"After I've been ranting and raving about this all these years, this was the first time to show and tell. And if I fold, what does that make me? What does that make me in the eyes of my colleagues? What does that make me in the eyes of my students?

"It was absolutely do what your gut tells you is the right thing to do and risk it all."

A month later, the board of education called a hearing to decide whether to fire Hearn. By then, the case was a hot topic in the local media. The Savannah Morning News eventually stopped printing letters to the editor, explaining that Hearn's case had drawn more mail than any single incident since Georgia Governor Zell Miller moved in 1993 to rid the state's flag of an inset of the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy.

The hearing room on the morning of April 30 was packed with Hearn's supporters. Some wore white ribbons with the slogans "Teach By Example" and "People Not Policy." Hearn's friends had run a full-page, $4,000 advertisement in the Morning News calling her character "above reproach." "Sherry was the type of person that if she was a drug user, she would have told you," says Linda Lynes, a guidance counselor at Windsor. "She did what the rest of us didn't have the guts to do. She took a stand."

For some of the city's community leaders, the episode was proof that the district's law-and-order tactics were getting out of hand. Ben Price, a Chatham County commissioner and a friend of Hearn's, voted for a zero-tolerance resolution when he was a member of the school board in the late 1980s. "But I never envisioned lockdowns," he says. "The phrase 'lockdown' refers to prison to me; they have lockdowns in prison."

The courts have not been sympathetic to constitutional objections to drug testing such as those Hearn raised.

But Savannah as a whole was sharply divided over Hearn and her stand. Superintendent Russo had recommended to the board that it fire Hearn, and, in an editorial published a few days before the hearing, the Morning News had agreed. The courts, the paper noted, have not been sympathetic to constitutional objections to drug testing such as those Hearn raised. [See "Law and Order" at left.] The teacher might be standing up for what she believes in, it said, but legally "she doesn't have a leg to stand on."

And while Sherry counted many colleagues among her supporters, Savannah's teaching corps did not exactly rally to her side. "People are very fond of Sherry, and everybody's saddened by what happened," says Kris Rawlins, a counselor at Groves High School and a teacher representative to the board of education. "But I do know that practically everybody in the school system supports the drug-free workplace policy."

Even at Windsor, the staff was split as to whether her refusal to take the drug test was an act of courage or simply dumb defiance. "A component of the faculty feels like, 'This is your boss. When your boss tells you to take the drug test, you do it,' " Anita Varner says. "Another component of the faculty says, 'No, this is a constitutional-rights issue.' "

When the hearing opened at 8 a.m., two members of the board immediately recused themselves from the proceedings. In affidavits filed with the board, Hearn's supporters had testified that the two had strongly suggested that their minds were essentially made up against the teacher; one of them allegedly said, "I know that nobody would throw away 25 years [of teaching], or whatever it is, for something this unimportant unless they had something to hide." (Both members denied that they had prejudged Hearn before the hearing.)

Police testimony made it clear that the car's interior was searched before Hearn was contacted—a violation of policy No. 766.

Over the next 16 hours, more than 20 witnesses testified before the board. Police told how the drug dog had alerted them to the drug in Hearn's car and how they ran a field test to confirm that it was marijuana. But their testimony made it clear that the car's interior was searched before Hearn was contacted—a violation of policy No. 766, which states that school staff member's personal belongings, including their cars, could be searched "only with the employee's consent."

Superintendent Russo admitted that the officers' breached policy: "We acknowledge the fact that, to a large degree, that particular procedure was not followed." But he waved off its importance. What was paramount, he argued, was the fact that Hearn's actions threatened the "integrity" of the district's drug policy. Russo could have opted to reprimand Hearn or extend her suspension, but instead he had recommended termination, the maximum penalty, or "capital punishment" as her lawyers referred to it. "There is no member of the staff—[whether] a student, a teacher, an employee—that can be held above the policies of the board of education," Russo testified.

Witnesses called on behalf of Hearn spoke of her teaching brilliance and aired their concerns about the drug searches and the testing policy. A Windsor teacher testified that police had treated minority students with more suspicion than white students. A student told how she feared that her classmates might hide their drug stash in her book bag when police searched the classrooms—words that echoed Hearn's argument that a student could have stashed the joint in her unlocked car. "The people at school who use drugs," the student testified, "they're smart enough to get rid of them when they hear that we're going to have a drug search."

Evidence also bolstered Hearn's claims that she was a straight arrow. A former student testified that after she graduated Hearn had tracked her down when rumors circulated that she was running with a fast crowd. Fighting back tears, the girl described how her former teacher had preached to her the dangers of messing with drugs.

Moreover, Hearn's lawyers entered as evidence a medical report that Hearn tested negative for drugs on April 5, about 30 hours after the marijuana was found in her car. Unable to reach her lawyer on April 4, Hearn had talked to two attorneys—a criminal specialist and a civil rights lawyer—and both recommended that she take a drug test. Proof of her contention that she was drug-free might help in her bid to win back her job, the lawyers told her. Hearn had reluctantly agreed.

But board members greeted much of this evidence with skepticism. Hearn might now object to the search of her car, but her behavior that day contradicted her principled stand based on the Constitution. She did, after all, agree to open her trunk for police. Also, her drug test was not conducted under police supervision, which made its result questionable.

The hearing to this point had been rancorous—several students had cried under blunt questioning from board members.

As the board hearing moved into the evening, Hearn's turn to testify finally came. The hearing to this point had been rancorous—several students had cried under blunt questioning from board members. Hearn was exhausted, and, true to form, she didn't sugarcoat any of her comments. At one point, when board member William Knight suggested that she could have flushed her body of any trace of marijuana before her drug test and talked about fluid levels in blood, she said, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Neither do I, really," Knight returned.

"Then maybe we should both shut up," Hearn replied sharply.

In the month since her suspension, Hearn had declined to talk to reporters about her case. Now, she spoke in her own defense for the first time. She reiterated her constitutional objections to the drug test and searches, but she knew the board did not find that relevant. "There is only one thing I know about whatever it was that was found in my car," she said, "and that is that it was not mine."

What infuriated her, she told the board, was that until that very moment, nobody from the central office had asked for her side of the story. The discovery of the marijuana that day had set off a mad scramble to find the exact wording of the district's drug policy. Since then, district officials had followed procedure to the letter, letting it dictate Hearn's fall from grace. The personnel director had phoned Hearn once, but their brief conversation led the suspended teacher to believe that she merely wanted to discuss insurance and other housekeeping matters.

"Somebody should have gotten in touch with me and said, 'What happened?'" Hearn told the board. "'Let's sit down and talk about this and see exactly what happened and exactly what we feel like we're going to need to do here.'"

Russo recommended termination without talking to her once, Hearn said. "I would think, having known me and my reputation and having gotten to know me through the contacts that we had the year that we saw each other a great deal because of that Teacher of the Year thing, I really would have believed that Dr. Russo would have just picked up the phone and called me and said, 'Sherry, what is going on? Why are you doing this? Are you crazy?'"

In his closing arguments, Leamon Holliday, the attorney for the board, dismissed as inconsequential most of Hearn's objections. The test that she took on April 5 was meaningless, he said. Drugs could have washed clean of her system by then. And besides, she had signed a contract in which she agreed to abide by district policies. Her refusal to take the drug test was "naked insubordination," he said. "You can gloss over it with all these things about 'I believe this' and 'I can't face my students,' but that's what we're really talking about."

Holliday did give the board an opening to overrule Russo and hand down a lesser punishment. Noting the police officers' violation of district policy regarding searches, he said, "I think that's something you ought to consider, not because it's illegal, not because it violates some constitutional mandate, but just because it's fair play. If we're going to set a standard for our teachers that we expect [them] to uphold, I think we're obligated to play by the rules."

The board disagreed. At about midnight, 16 hours after the hearing opened, the six board members returned from a half-hour closed-door session and announced they had voted 5 to 1 to terminate Hearn. The no vote was cast by John Matthews, her friend and the board member to whom she had complained about the drug policy. The board discu sed the police violation of the district policy regarding searches of teachers' personal belongings, says Karen Matthews, the board's president. But in the end, most members concluded that it did not matter. "It came down to the board feeling very strongly about our drug-free workplace policy," the board president says. "If an employee faced a reasonable suspicion of drug use and was allowed to say, 'I'm not taking the test,' we would never be able to enforce the policy again."

Hearn's dismissal troubled many of the kids and staff at Windsor. They knew Hearn had fought to keep her classroom a sanctuary from "downtown" and its policies; now, in a cruel irony, policy had locked her out of her own classroom. "There are students for whom this may be a life-changing event," Anita Varner says. "Some of them have had an awful difficult time coming to terms with what happened."

At graduation last spring, senior class leaders departed from their prepared speeches--speeches that had been previewed by school officials--and hailed Hearn to thunderous applause. Says Kim Stover, "She always told us, 'You have to stand up for what you believe in. You have to voice your opinion. You have to say, This is my right.' And when the chips were down, that's what she did."

Some observers outside Savannah agree. In May, an editorial in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution said Hearn was wrongly fired and argued that students won't respect authority "when those in authority treat everyone as if they were criminals." And last month, the Georgia chapter of the ACLU honored the teacher with its Civil Liberties Award.

Hearn's stand may go for naught, however. Neither board president Karen Matthews nor superintendent Russo plans to revisit the drugfree workplace policy. "There is not a more serious problem right now in this country than the abuse of alcohol and drugs," Russo says. "It's creating a serious problem in our schools and our society, and we have to take strong action if we want to be a country of strong morals and ideals. Our position will continue to be that with anyone found in violation of the policy we will take the severest steps possible."

Nor does the flare-up over drug testing appear likely to prompt many teachers to balk at signing their contracts. "I have three more years before I can retire," Windsor's Linda Lynes says. "I'm not going to do anything to jeopardize my retirement, my insurance, and all that. I'll sign the contract, and I guess I'd go take the drug test, but I'd really, really resent it."

Still, Hearn is not done fighting. Georgia's board of education in November turned down her appeal of her dismissal, but she's preparing to take her case to state or federal court. It took a little girl in Little Rock who stood up for what was right to end segregated schools, Hearn says. "I figured the same thing would be necessary here. But I truly believed that at some point some parent would be the one to do it. I never thought it would be me."

Meanwhile, she craves the classroom. After her dismissal, she held class at her home for a number of her advanced-placement American history students. Whether or not she was officially considered their teacher, Hearn wanted them to take the AP exam with the best possible preparation.

This fall, she taught a course at nearby Armstrong State College. But full-time work has been more elusive; her applications to 31 private and public schools within a two and a half hour round-trip commute of Savannah have yet to net an offer. Money's not tight yet, but she and Dick know they may have to shelve some of their dream plans for retirement. Barring huge legal bills that tap out their savings, they still expect to build a cabin on a piece of property they own in the mountains of north Georgia.

"Listen," she says, "if this is over with and we lose, then the two of us will have been taught that we live in a different America than we thought. And we will go live on our mountain for the rest of our lives. And the whole rest of the world can just go to hell. We won't come down, and they won't come up."

Vol. 08, Issue 04, Page 23-27

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on edweek.org, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories

Viewed

Emailed

Recommended

Commented

MORE EDUCATION JOBS >>