- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 23, 2002

The D.C. school board yesterday passed an emergency resolution defending a Dunbar High School teacher who is being fired because he violated the Hatch Act by running for a seat on the D.C. Council.
The resolution calls on Congress to include D.C. teachers in an exemption already protecting teachers nationwide from the federal law that prohibits persons, in jobs funded fully or in part by the government, from running for public office.
The Washington Times first reported on April 13 that the federal government ordered D.C. public schools to fire Tom Briggs, 41, within 30 days because he ran for the council in 2000. He lost his bid for the Ward 2 council seat after running as the D.C. Statehood Green Party candidate against Democratic incumbent Jack Evans.
Mr. Briggs, who teaches American and world history and coaches baseball at Dunbar, has been on administrative leave since April 15, when he received a pink slip from D.C. Public Schools.
D.C. Council member Adrian Fenty, members of the school board, teachers, students and supporters of the D.C. Statehood Green Party held a street-corner rally outside Dunbar in Northwest yesterday afternoon, calling on the federal government to drop its order to fire Mr. Briggs.
"It makes no sense whatsoever that people in the federal government can criticize the D.C. public school system for its limitations, then turn around and call for the removal of one of our best teachers," school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz told the group of about 50 demonstrators through a hand-held megaphone.
The Hatch Act, enacted in 1940, originally was amended in 1942 to exempt all teachers, including those in the District. More amendments in 1993 kept the exemption for teachers in all 50 states, but dropped it for D.C. teachers.
Some officials have said D.C. teachers were not intentionally dropped from the exemption, rather were subject to a "clerical error" in the drafting of the new amendments.
Both Mr. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, and Mrs. Cafritz said the school system needs to comply with the federal order to fire Mr. Briggs. But the system should then simply "rehire" him as a new employee.
"It's a solution leaping through my mind," Mrs. Cafritz said in an interview. "I don't see any barrier to firing him, then rehiring him because then he would be a new employee and he would not be in violation of the Hatch Act."
It was not clear yesterday whether there are legal obstacles that would restrict the rehiring of Mr. Briggs.
Mrs. Cafritz stressed, however, that it is the responsibility of the office of D.C. schools Superintendent Paul L. Vance, not the school board, to hire and fire teachers. Officials in Mr. Vance's office did not return repeated phone calls yesterday.
Mr. Briggs' attorney, Jim Bailey, has appealed the order to fire his client in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the federal circuit. Today, he intends to file a motion to enable Mr. Briggs to remain on his job at Dunbar, pending review of the appeal.
"Tom would be irreparably harmed if he is removed and we want to keep him on staff, particularly in light [of] the critical teacher shortage in the District," he said.
The school board's resolution calls on Congress to "declare the Hatch Act inapplicable to professional educators in the District and authorize D.C. Public Schools to immediately reinstate Mr. Briggs, without penalty."
"The real victims to the Hatch Act are the students I teach at Dunbar," Mr. Briggs told supporters at yesterday's rally. "For the government to believe that it's a good thing to remove a teacher with a good career from their job is ridiculous."
Tabatha, 17, a junior at Dunbar and one of about two dozen students who came to the rally said: "It's unfair. He made [U.S. history] class interesting to learn."
"Tom Briggs is one of the most important people at this school. He's extraordinary," added Alicia, 16, another of his history students.
"He's the only teacher I've had who actually develops a relationship with every student. Kids who skip class will actually do whatever they can not to miss his class."


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