- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, trying to save the career of a popular D.C. teacher who violated the Hatch Act by running for the D.C. Council, has asked Congress to exempt local teachers from the federal law that prevents government workers from seeking public office.
Mrs. Norton's bill would be retroactive to the year 2000, to allow Mr. Briggs to get his job back.
Mrs. Norton, a Democrat and the District's nonvoting congressional representative, said teachers in all 50 states are exempt from the Hatch Act, and says the fact that D.C. teachers aren't makes it an "antiquated, anti-home-rule law."
"I am asking that the District should not be selected out for discriminatory treatment," said Mrs. Norton. "If [teacher Tom Briggs] was a federal employee, he could run. But because he is a D.C. employee, he can't. There is no way to make sense of that."
The Washington Times first reported April 13 on the order by the Office of Special Counsel to fire Mr. Briggs, who ran on the D.C. Statehood Green Party ticket against incumbent Ward 2 council member Jack Evans, Democrat, in the 2000 elections. The Office of Special Counsel enforces the Hatch Act, which prohibits people in jobs fully or partly funded by the government for 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.
"The House passed the amendment to exempt District teachers, but the Senate put it back in," said Mrs. Norton. "It is deja vu. I am asking the House to do what they did in 1993."
Last week, 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 that already protects teachers nationwide.
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.
Since the termination, D.C. school officials have explored ways to rehire the 41-year-old Dunbar Senior High School history teacher and baseball coach after schools Superintendent Paul L. Vance bowed to an order last week from the federal government to fire Mr. Briggs.
But officials with the Office of Special Counsel who last month sent the order for Mr. Briggs' removal said rehiring him would be illegal.
Now, Mr. Briggs' attorneys have requested a stay pending an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Mrs. Norton added her voice to the request for a delay, writing Susanne Marshall, the acting chairman of the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, for a delay in the termination.
"Removing Mr. Briggs from his classroom does harm not only to the students at Dunbar but to the D.C. public school system, which as a shortage of teachers," she wrote in an April 26 letter.
"Permitting Mr. Briggs to continue as a teacher would bring very significant benefits to his students and to his school."
Mr. Briggs could not be reached for comment. His attorneys, Matthew Yeo and Jim Bailey, said they were pleased by the bill.
"It's a great idea," said Mr. Yeo. "My only concern is that Congress tends to take a long time. Solving the problems of the District has not always been a priority."

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