- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

RICHMOND — Stephen Murmer is known to his students as a popular art teacher who is always quick to crack a joke.

But another side to Mr. Murmer has agitated school officials and resulted in his suspension. A side that focuses, almost entirely, on his backside.

Outside of class and under an alter ego, the self-proclaimed “butt-printing artist” creates floral and abstract art by plastering his posterior with paint and pressing it against canvas. His creations sell for up to $900.

This has not gone over well with Chesterfield County school officials, who placed Mr. Murmer on administrative leave Friday from his job at Monacan High School.

Mr. Murmer contacted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia after he was suspended, ACLU legal director Rebecca Glenberg said. He told Miss Glenberg that he was suspended with pay for five days because of his outside work, and that he could face unpaid suspension pending an investigation.

Mr. Murmer has been instructed by the school administration not to speak with reporters, Miss Glenberg said.

Chesterfield County schools spokeswoman Debra Marlow confirmed that a Monacan art teacher had been placed on administrative leave, but declined to provide additional details because it is a personnel issue.

Mr. Murmer went to great lengths to keep his work life separate from his activities as an artist, ACLU executive director Kent Willis said. As an artist, he goes by the name “Stan Murmur” and appears in disguise in photographs and videos promoting his art.

“As a public employee, he has constitutional rights, and he certainly has the right to engage in private, legal activities protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution,” Mr. Willis said.

Mr. Murmer expressed concern about remaining incognito during a 2003 appearance on the now-canceled cable-television talk show, “Unscrewed With Martin Sargent.” In a clip from the show, available on YouTube.com, Mr. Murmer dons a fake nose and glasses, a towel on his head, a black thong — and nothing else.

That video has made the rounds at Monacan High. Most students appeared to support their teacher, describing his suspension as “stupid ” and “ignorant.”

“Everyone has been talking about it,” senior Heather Thompson said yesterday with a laugh as she and other students streamed out of school.

Heather, who worked with Mr. Murmer in the school’s art club, said many students have known about his paintings for a few years, but the YouTube clip recently got everyone buzzing. She and other students described Mr. Murmer as a funny, likable and popular teacher. There is little support among the student body for his suspension, she said.

“It was simply him expressing himself and his art, and it had nothing to do with school. He wasn’t advertising,” she said.

Three years ago, Mr. Murmer also faced problems because of his extracurricular activities. He also contacted the ACLU after he was told that school administrators were unhappy about his paintings, Mr. Willis said. The issue eventually went away with no suspension issued, Mr. Willis said.

It was not clear why administrators decided to take action now.

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