Wednesday, January 10, 2007

RICHMOND (AP) — A high school art teacher who sparked controversy after his off-hours work as a “butt-printing artist” became known has been fired.

The Chesterfield County School Board, in a unanimous voice vote, terminated Stephen Murmer at a meeting Tuesday night, schools spokeswoman Debra Marlow said.

Superintendent Marcus J. Newsome had recommended to the board that Mr. Murmer be fired. Mr. Murmer and his attorney, Jason Anthony, had an opportunity to present their case in a closed session of the three-hour meeting.

The board voted after the meeting was opened to the public.

Members reasoned that students have a right to receive their education in a positive learning environment free from distractions and disruptions, Miss Marlow said. The decision also is in line with court rulings that hold that teachers are expected to lead by example, be role models and honor core values, she said.

Mr. Anthony called the vote “a bad day for the First Amendment.”

“Chesterfield lost a tremendous asset today,” he said.

Mr. Murmer, a teacher at Monacan High School, was suspended in December after objections were raised about his private abstract artwork, much of which includes smearing his posterior with paint and pressing it against canvas.

His paintings sell for as much as $900 each on his Web site.

“A public employee such as a schoolteacher has a right to free expression outside the workplace so long as that free expression doesn’t go beyond his ability to do his job,” said Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, after learning of the board’s vote to dismiss Mr. Murmer.

“The question is, ‘Does his art interfere with his ability to teach?’ ”

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