- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2002

D.C. public school officials yesterday said a Dunbar Senior High School teacher, fired in April because he violated the Hatch Act when he ran for D.C. Council seat two years ago, has been rehired.
Tom Briggs, a history teacher and baseball coach at the school, was reinstated on Monday as a "new hire" with "standard pay," according to school officials.
The school year ended yesterday.
"It feels great to walk back into the building and feel the connection back with the kids," Mr. Briggs said. "For me, it was very important that I got rehired before the end of the school year because I wanted my students to see that it's the right thing to do to fight something that is wrong."
The school system bowed to a federal order in firing Mr. Briggs on April 24 for violating the Hatch Act in 2000 when he ran on the D.C. Statehood Green Party ticket against incumbent Ward 2 Democrat Jack Evans.
The Hatch Act, enacted in 1940, prohibits people in jobs fully or partly funded by the federal government from running for public office. It was amended in 1942 to exempt all teachers, including those in the District.
Amendments in 1993, however, 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 Washington Times first reported April 13 on the order by the Office of Special Counsel the agency that enforces the Hatch Act to fire Mr. Briggs.
Jim Baxley, deputy general counsel for D.C. schools, yesterday said "hiring Mr. Briggs as a new hire does not violate in any way the order to fire him."
"We've complied with the order. We removed him," Mr. Baxley said. "That's what was required and we don't think his rehiring changes that."
Officials with the OSC previously said rehiring Mr. Briggs would be illegal. During a May 13 interview, OSC spokeswoman Jane McFarland told The Times: "If they try to rehire him, then we would pursue enforcement action, which could mean disciplinary action toward whoever rehired him or it could mean removal again."
It was not clear yesterday whether the OSC intends to take action against the school system. "We'll have to investigate the circumstances of the rehiring," Mrs. McFarland said. "Right now, we've got no information."
Mr. Briggs has an appeal pending against the order to fire him. When the D.C. schools did not immediately rehire him in April he began volunteering without pay at Dunbar in Northwest.
But he stopped after four days, saying that a "major lesson" in his experiences had been lost on his students. "One of the goals of this was to show the students that I would be hired back as a teacher," he said. "There was an unjust law, so I decided to fight that law."
Mr. Briggs yesterday said now that he has been rehired, the lesson will not been lost. "What I've done is only to begin a battle to fight for true democracy in this city," he said. "The first battle is won, but the war continues."
Mr. Briggs' attorney, Matthew Yeo, said the OSC may not have learned of the rehiring before yesterday. "Once the OSC finds out about this, I assume that they're going to try to do something about it.
"I hope there isn't anything that compels that OSC to bring an enforcement action against the D.C. public schools," he said. "I hope they realize that the better course of valor here is to let the matter rest while the courts decide the constitutionality of this law."
A week after he was fired, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton came to Mr. Briggs' defense by introducing legislation that would exempt local teachers from the Hatch Act.
The legislation calls for a change in the law that would be retroactive to the year 2000, thus allowing Mr. Briggs to get his job back.
Mrs. Norton, a Democrat and the District's nonvoting congressional representative, said the fact that D.C. teachers are not exempt from the Hatch Act makes it an "antiquated, anti-home-rule law."
The D.C. school board also came to Mr. Briggs' defense, passing an emergency resolution in April that urges Congress to include D.C. teachers in an exemption that already protects teachers nationwide.

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