- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 25, 2003

A federal agency is trying again to remove a Dunbar Senior High School teacher for mixing his academic career with politics.

The federal Office of Special Counsel restarted the process last week by petitioning the federal Merit Systems Protection Board to terminate Tom Briggs and make him repay his salary since being rehired in June.

The petition was filed Wednesday, documents show. The board has yet to act on the petition, which could require the D.C. Public Schools to discharge Mr. Briggs again. Federal and school officials could not be reached for comment.

“For them to wait 11 months before they decided to do anything is ridiculous,” Mr. Briggs said yesterday. “I don’t want to leave my job and I don’t have the money to pay back. The whole thing has been unjust.”

Federal officials first ordered the firing of Mr. Briggs, a teacher at Dunbar since 1999, in April 2002 for violating the 52-year-old Hatch Act.

The act prohibits part-time or full-time federal employees from seeking election to public office but was amended in 1942 to exempt teachers.

The exemption was extended in 1993 for teachers in the 50 states, but not for those teaching in the District.

Mr. Briggs said he was warned about the prohibition in September 2000 when he ran on the D.C. Statehood Green Party ticket against City Councilman Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat.

“I never campaigned during school hours,” he said. “I never campaigned in school. I never had the intention of winning.”

However, D.C. school officials followed the federal order and fired Mr. Briggs on April 24, 2002.

He returned briefly as an unpaid, volunteer teacher.

“Losing my job was the most difficult thing I’ve ever encountered,” said Mr. Briggs, 42. “I lost my job. I lost my hair.”

He was rehired in June as a teacher and baseball coach at the Northwest high school, just four blocks from where he lives and where many of the students have known him since they were children.

“When I was reinstated, it was the happiest day of my life,” he said.

Mr. Briggs also predicted that he would run again for political office and that he thinks the law is flawed.

“I believe it is my right as an American to run for public office … and to teach,” he said. “I would like for the leaders of this city to take a stand on it. There are so many times in this city when we’re not treated as American citizens.”

Mr. Briggs said he was telephoned and first warned about his violation while reading a publication from a teachers association titled “Teachers Are Running for America.” He said the struggle to keep his job is a good school lesson.

“My kids all know what the Hatch Act is,” he said.

“It’s been a learning environment for the kids. They know about the three branches of government,” Mr. Briggs said.

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