The Jefferson County School District said Thursday that it has reinstated a geography teacher who was placed on paid administrative leave because he refused to take down foreign flags hung up in his classroom.
The school district said Eric Hamlin will be back in class at Carmody Middle School and so will his flags. Hamlin said he needs to think about whether he wants to return to the school or not.
"I did ask the area superintendent if I could take one more day, tomorrow, (to) think through this," said Hamlin. "It's the first time I've been torn in quite a while."
The school said that he can have the flags up for only six weeks at a time and then he will have to rotate them out, since state law makes it illegal to display foreign flags permanently in schools.
"Hamlin met with school district officials this morning. After reviewing the situation and the state law, Hamlin and the district agreed that Mr. Hamlin would return to the classroom tomorrow morning, Friday, Aug. 25, and the flags would be used in a manner consistent with an exception in the law that permits temporary displays of foreign flags as instructional materials," Jeffco Public Schools said Thursday in a released statement.
"Our district believes in win-win situations. This will address the district's concerns regarding compliance with the law and get Mr. Hamlin back into the classroom," said Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Cindy Stevenson.
Hamlin was escorted out of class on the second day of school after he refused to take down the flags of China and Mexico. Principal John Schalk asked Hamlin to remove the flags because of his concern that the display violated a Colorado law (C.R.S. 18-11-205), the Jeffco School District said. Jeffco placed Hamlin on paid administrative leave for insubordination.
"Under state law, foreign flags can only be in the classroom because it's tied to the curriculum. And the principal looked at the curriculum, talked to the teacher, and found that there was really no curriculum coming up in the next few weeks that supported those flags being in the classroom," Jeffco Public Schools spokeswoman Lynn Setzer said Wednesday.
Hamlin argued that although his curriculum may not speak specifically about those flags, they are used as reference tools for world geography.
"It's much along the lines of a science teacher who puts up a map of the solar system. They may not spend every day and every lesson talking about Mars, but they want the students to see that and to see the patterns of the planets and the order, and the students will observe that and absorb that learning visually," Hamlin said.
Hamlin said that the school district not only deprived him of a teaching tool but also took away from his students' education.
"The major problem I see here is with the law that limits educators," Hamlin said.
"We have to uphold state law. We really have no discretion when it comes to upholding the law," Setzer said.
Hamlin said he was considering getting his master's degree from the University of Denver before he was offered the teaching position at Carmody. He now said that if he chooses not to return to the school, he will pursue a masters degree at DU.
"What happens next? Is going back to Carmody Middle School going to tear open wounds that have started to heal?" said Hamlin. "Will my presence be more of a problem for the staff and the students at that school than my being away? And that's what I have to think about."
Hamlin said he understands that the school district was only following state law, so he met with the American Civil Liberties Union. He said that, if necessary, he planned on fighting the constitutionality of the law.
This is the fourth year Hamlin has worked within the Jeffco School District, and he said he's hung the flags every year without a problem. This is his first year at Carmody Middle School.
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