Students Protest After Teacher Suspended For Blasting Bush

Teacher On Paid Leave After Criticizing President

A high school teacher was on paid administrative leave Thursday after he criticized President George W. Bush, capitalism and the United States' foreign policy in his geography class at Overland High School.

More than 100 students at Overland walked out of class in protest of the suspension Thursday morning. They gathered in front of the school and in the park nearby. Then, additional students walked out to protest the teacher's remarks.

A 16-year-old Overland student went public Wednesday with a 20-minute recording of the incident, in which teacher Jay Bennish said there were similarities between what Bush said during his State of the Union address and "things that Adolf Hitler used to say."

The United States was "probably the single most violent nation on planet Earth," the social studies teacher also said on the tape, recorded by 10th-grade student Sean Allen.

"So these kids are going to have notes on why George Bush is related to Hitler and why the state of Israel was founded on violence and terrorism," Allen said on KHOW Radio Wednesday. "These kids are going to have notes on this and they're going to accept that as fact and I think that's what's mostly as fault here, is when kids start accepting radical political bias as fact."

Cherry Creek School District spokeswoman Tustin Amole said officials are investigating the incident, but no disciplinary action has been taken.

She said the tape only represents 20 minutes of the classroom lecture so school officials need to talk to him and other students and determine whether this was an isolated incident or a pattern of behavior.

The investigation into whether any school district policy has been breached should take about a week, she said.

"We do want teachers to express their opinions, but to put that in context and to provide opposing points of view ... All discussion must be fair and balanced," said Amole. "We take this very seriously. These allegations of what may have occurred, what appeared to have occurred, are highly inappropriate."

"(The suspension) is not a disciplinary action. It is to give us enough time to sit down and gather all the facts," said Amole.

Superintendent Monte Moses said that Bennish's presentation appeared to be unbalanced.

"Our policy calls for both sides to be present ... in the interest of intellectual discourse," he said.

On the audiotape, Bennish is heard telling students that they don't have to agree with what he says, that he's just trying to make them think.

But students say that Bennish went too far when he compared Bush to Hitler.

"'It is our duty as Americans to use the military to go out into the world and make the world like us.' Sounds a lot like the things that Adolph Hitler used to say," Bennish told his students.

The majority of students who walked out Thursday supported Bennish. Some of them held signs that said, "Freedom of Speech: Let Him Teach!" and "Was Jay Bennish Wrong For Telling The Truth?"

"I think he inspires so many students. He's just a great teacher," said student Helen Shitta. "Mr. Bennish is one of the best teachers we had here. He's honest. And that's what we need, you know?"

Other students thought Bennish went too far. At least one protestor had a shirt that said, "Teach, Don't Preach!"

"I've had Mr. Bennish before. It would be one thing if he told both sides or qualified his points but he doesn't. He teaches it as the truth when it's his own opinion. And that's not right," said student Derrick Belloni.

At times, the one-hour protest got pretty heated, with students on both sides facing off and yelling at each other. School officials called in Aurora police officers to keep the protest under control.

Allen was not attending classes Thursday morning. He said he took the day off because of the negative feedback he has received since he went public. Allen said he had tape-recorded his accelerated geography class for lecture notes to help him study.

Bennish has hired an attorney and is seeking legal protection.

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