- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 27, 2002

D.C. school officials are looking into the legal consequences of rehiring a Dunbar Senior High School teacher ordered fired because he violated the Hatch Act when he ran for a seat on the D.C. Council in 2000.

The office of Superintendent Paul L. Vance on Wednesday bowed to an order from the federal government to fire Tom Briggs, 41, history teacher and baseball coach.

Officials with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) the federal agency that enforces the Hatch Act and last month sent the order for Mr. Briggs' removal said rehiring him would be illegal.

"If they rehire [Mr. Briggs], we would have to seek enforcement action again," OSC spokeswoman Jane McFarland said. "When you remove an employee, it's clearly not meant to rehire him again a week later."

But during a telephone interview yesterday, Jim Baxely, deputy general counsel for D.C. schools, said school officials are trying to find a way to reinstate Mr. Briggs as early as next week. The former American history and world history teacher also coached baseball at the Northwest school.

"On all accounts he's a fine teacher and a good employee," Mr. Baxely said. "Whatever is within the bounds of the law we will do [to rehire him]."

The Washington Times on April 13 first reported the order to fire Mr. Briggs, who lost his bid to unseat D.C. council member Jack Evans, Democrat, when he ran on the D.C. Statehood Green Party ticket to represent Ward 2.

On Monday, the D.C. school board came to Mr. Briggs' defense, passing an emergency resolution that urges Congress to include D.C. teachers in an exemption already protecting teachers nationwide from the Hatch Act, which prohibits people in jobs fully or partly funded by the government from running for public office.

The law, enacted in 1940, was amended in 1942 to exempt all teachers, including those in the District. Amendments in 1993 kept the exemption for teachers in all 50 states but dropped it for D.C. teachers treating them, like all other D.C. government employees, as employees of the federal government.

Some officials have said D.C. teachers were not intentionally dropped from the exemption, rather they were subject to a "clerical error" in the drafting of the new amendments.

School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz said she supports the idea of firing, then rehiring Mr. Briggs as a way to circumvent the federal order. "As a new employee [he] would not be in violation of the Hatch Act," she said.

She stressed, however, that it is the responsibility of Mr. Vance's office to hire and fire teachers.

Mr. Baxely said the superintendent's office won't rehire Mr. Briggs until officials are certain that doing so would not further violate the Hatch Act.

"The president of the school board has expressed the desire to rehire him and we're going to do whatever we can to do that," he said. "Obviously we don't want to be put in a position where we're in violation of the federal law."

Mr. Briggs, who on Thursday applied for his old job, said: "I have to get back to my kids otherwise this is a lesson in futility."

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