- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2006

AURORA, Colo. — By many accounts, teacher Jay Bennish was notorious for veering off topic to blast President Bush, capitalism and U.S. foreign policy during his social-studies classes here at Overland High School.

Then Sean Allen got an MP3 player for Christmas.

This week, Mr. Bennish was placed on administrative leave pending a school-district investigation after 16-year-old Sean recorded a lecture during his sophomore geography class in which the teacher compared Mr. Bush to Adolf Hitler.

During the 20-minute recording, Mr. Bennish said there were “eerie similarities” between “things that Adolf Hitler used to say” and Mr. Bush’s statements during his Jan. 31 State of the Union address.

Mr. Bennish also said that capitalism was “at odds with human rights,” and that the United States was “probably the most violent nation on planet Earth.”

Jeff Allen, Sean’s father, said his son would often complain about his teacher’s left-wing rants, but Mr. Allen assumed he was exaggerating — until he heard Mr. Bennish on the recording.

“I had no idea he was this nuts,” said Mr. Allen.

The Cherry Creek School District is conducting a “thorough investigation” into the matter, but in a statement released Wednesday, officials said “it seems evident that a breach of district policy occurred regarding the balanced presentation of sensitive material.”

District policy allows teachers to offer their views on issues, within certain parameters, said district spokeswoman Tustin Amole.

“We encourage teachers to express their opinions, but they must be in the context of the class they are teaching and they have to provide both sides,” she said.

She added that students are permitted to bring recording devices to class, and that Sean will not face disciplinary action for recording the lecture.

Mr. Bennish was placed on paid leave in part to shield him from the public outcry over the issue, she said. Sean has discussed the matter publicly on two popular Denver radio talk-show programs.

“It’s to take pressure off him [Mr. Bennish] — he’s under a lot of pressure and having a really hard time,” said Ms. Amole. “We also wanted to get a substitute and get the students in his classes back on track.”

Sean has also faced his share of backlash. He opted to stay home from school yesterday after hearing from friends that some students wanted to beat him up, said Mr. Allen.

“All the parents I’ve heard from have been supportive,” said Mr. Allen. “But Sean is getting threats of physical violence from his classmates. I had to cut a business trip short to get home because I’m worried about him.”

About 200 Overland students staged a morning walk-out yesterday to support Mr. Bennish, waving signs with messages such as “Let Him Teach!” Another group of students held a counter-rally backing Sean, shouting, “Teach, don’t preach! Sean was right!”

Radio talk-show host Mike Rosen, who devoted his morning programs on Wednesday and yesterday to the issue, said that caller reaction was “overwhelmingly” against Mr. Bennish.

“I’ve had more e-mail response to this than any issue in years,” said Mr. Rosen. “Callers have been overwhelmingly angry at Jay Bennish.”

While some callers favored firing Mr. Bennish, Mr. Allen said he thought the teacher should be retained, albeit with a reprimand. The district expects to reach a decision on the matter next week.

“I don’t think he should be fired at all. He should be back in the classroom, but this time teaching geography,” said Mr. Allen. “I just want teachers to teach the curriculum.”

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