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Archive for Monday, October 9, 2006

Field trip fallout embroils art teacher, district

School defends firing after student sees nude piece at museum

October 9, 2006

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— Like the artwork that teacher Sydney McGee insists she was fired for letting her students study, her former school says there's more to her dismissal than is apparent at first glimpse.

McGee, who taught elementary school in this sprawling Dallas suburb, has drawn national sympathy and disbelief since claiming she was let go last month because a parent complained that a child saw a nude piece during a field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art.

Eighty-nine of McGee's fifth-graders toured the museum during the April trip, which McGee concedes likely included nudes but was arranged as a chance to see Picassos and Piet Mondrians.

"It's not a place of pornography, it's art," said McGee, 51, who has taught for 28 years and lists Oxford University among her graduate studies.

Her dismissal has stirred up familiar stereotypes of Texas conservatism run amok and the intemperate prudishness of suburban life.

The Frisco school board suspended McGee, with pay, on Sept. 22 for the remainder of the school year and the superintendent has said he will recommend that her contract not be renewed. District officials have vigilantly maintained that the decision stemmed from separate personnel issues and not one child's exposure to a nude artwork, which has never been identified.

But as public attention has intensified, school officials are trying to defend their decision in a back-and-forth they say puts them in "an extreme disadvantage ... due to issues of employee privacy and ethical considerations."

On the school district's Web site last week, administrators posted that "we have tried very hard to take the high road" and said they asked McGee for permission to make her personnel files public. In a memo to McGee dated almost three weeks after the field trip, Fisher Principal Nancy Lawson lists performance concerns that include not updating lesson plans and wearing flip-flops to work.

Teacher Sydney McGee gazes out the window at her lawyer's office in Dallas. McGee, who taught art at an elementary school in a Dallas suburb, has drawn national sympathy and disbelief since claiming she was let go last month because a parent complained that a child saw a nude piece during a field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art.

Teacher Sydney McGee gazes out the window at her lawyer's office in Dallas. McGee, who taught art at an elementary school in a Dallas suburb, has drawn national sympathy and disbelief since claiming she was let go last month because a parent complained that a child saw a nude piece during a field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art.

McGee's attorney, Rogge Dunn, said he would approve the disclosure if the district superintendent and McGee's former principal also disclose their personnel files.

Dunn said he is reviewing what legal options McGee might have. He downplayed news last week that McGee accepted a buyout of nearly $8,300 at her last teaching position in nearby McKinney, saying the documents, which include parents' complaints about her teaching, don't reveal the reason for the buyout.

"That doesn't mean you're bad at your job," Dunn said. "This doesn't change anything."

McGee said she arranged the field trip with Lawson's encouragement and toured the museum twice before taking her students. She said she decided against having the class examine a Mayan exhibit because its virgin sacrifices and bloodletting scenes were too "esoteric" for the students.

"We have a lot of sporting things in Frisco, with the soccer and the baseball," McGee said. "But not a lot of those kids go to the museum."

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