- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 14, 2002

The D.C. high school teacher fired last month because he violated the Hatch Act by running for a seat on the D.C. Council has been allowed back into the classroom to work with students, but he's not getting paid.
City public schools officials appointed Tom Briggs as a "volunteer" last week.
Mr. Briggs, who teaches history and coaches baseball at Dunbar High School in Northwest, says he feels like a major lesson in his experiences is being lost on his students.
"I don't get it," he told The Washington Times yesterday. "One of the major goals of this was to show the students that I would be hired back as a teacher. There was an unjust law, so I decided to fight that law."
"Now there's a very good chance that my being back in the school as a volunteer is setting an awful example for these kids," Mr. Briggs said. "I won't become a martyr or some pathetic little entity in the school. I want my job back."
The Times first reported April 13 on the order by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) 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 OSC enforces the Hatch Act, which prohibits people in jobs fully or partly funded by the government for running for public office. After Superintendent of D.C. Schools Paul L. Vance on April 24 bowed to the order to fire Mr. Briggs, 41, officials contemplated simply rehiring him to circumvent the federal law.
Jim Baxley, deputy general counsel for D.C. schools said Mr. Briggs is a "fine teacher and good employee" and that "whatever is within the bounds of the law, we will do to rehire him."
But the push to rehire apparently lost steam when Mr. Briggs agreed to re-enter the school as an unpaid volunteer and officials with the OSC told The Times on April 27 that rehiring the teacher would be illegal.
"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," spokeswoman Jane McFarland said.
However, Mr. Briggs' attorney, Matthew S. Yeo, insists Mrs. McFarland is in error because the Hatch Act treats D.C. teachers as federal employees.
"There's nothing that says any time has to pass before they rehire him," Mr. Yeo said. "It would not be illegal."
He cited a 1999 Hatch Act case involving a D.C. employee fired for working as a fund-raiser for D.C. politicians. The federal government's Merit System Protections Board, which presides over Hatch Act cases, ruled that "because D.C. employees are considered federal employees, they can not be permanently barred from being rehired," Mr. Yeo said.
Mr. Baxley said that he agrees with Mr. Yeo, and that Mr. Briggs' fate is now in the hands of the superintendent, who was unavailable for comment yesterday. The Hatch Act, 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 but rather were subjected to a "clerical error" in the drafting of the new amendments.
A week after Mr. Briggs was fired, the D.C. school board came to his defense, passing an emergency resolution that urges Congress to include D.C. teachers in an exemption that already protects teachers nationwide.
Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton also came to Mr. Briggs' defense, introducing legislation that would exempt local teachers from the federal law.
Mrs. Norton, a Democrat and the District's nonvoting congressional representative, introduced a bill retroactive to the year 2000 to allow Mr. Briggs to get his job back. She said the fact that D.C. teachers are not exempt from the Hatch Act makes it an "antiquated, anti-home-rule law."
Mr. Briggs said he seized the opportunity to be a volunteer at Dunbar rather than "holding out" to be rehired because he didn't want to abandon his students after having taught them throughout the school year. Only after re-entering the school without pay did frustration begin to sink in, he said.
"I'm not the teacher in the room; a permanent substitute is the main teacher in the room," Mr. Briggs said.
"The kids have been told that I would be coming in as a volunteer but the permanent 'sub' would be responsible for the grades, which puts everyone in an awkward position."


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