Fired teacher blames bias

By MATT SMITH
Universe Staff Writer

An Orem teacher says he was fired from Independence High School because of religious differences, and he wants to end the discrimination in the district.

The district said religion had nothing to do with the decision to dismiss the teacher. The school needed restructuring because of budget cuts.

Charles Larson, who taught social studies part-time for Independence High School, an alternative high school, lost his job during the restructuring of the school.

Independence principal Greg Hudnall told Larson in May 1993 that because of departmental changes and budget cuts, his teaching position "no longer was available after this term."

Larson feels he was dismissed because he is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and because he wrote a book Hudnall did not like.

Larson said his book should not be viewed as anti-LDS.

"I am a historian and a scholar, and many scholarly ideas differ from traditionally religious beliefs, but there still is a need to show other views," he said.

In fall of 1994, Provo City School District Superintendent Michael Jacobsen received a grievance letter from Larson, who said he should not have been let go.

In September 1994 and October 1996, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) informed the district of the need to respond to the grievance of Larson.

"Testimonial evidence confirms Larson was harassed and intimidated when his principal learned he had published a book in spring 1992, which was considered anti-Mormon," said Charles D. Burtner, district director of the EEOC. "Upon finding that there is reason to believe that violations had occurred, the commission attempts to eliminate the alleged unlawful practices by informal methods of conciliation."

Larson said the school district had ample opportunity to investigate the matter, but just decided to accept information supplied by Hudnall.

"I wrote a response in 1994 and then heard nothing for two years, Jacobsen said. "Then we get another letter about some additional evidence of discrimination, but the EEOC said they cannot provide the evidence or the reasoning."

The school district is standing by the evidence provided by Hudnall that his dismissal was "a routine procedure." But according to Larson, Hudnall provided the district with faulty documents.

Hudnall said he has no personal problem with Larson's book. "I'm not at odds with people over religion," he said. "It didn't cause a problem for me. There was nothing for me personally. Religion is a non-issue at my workplace."

"I am delighted that Hudnall said such a statement," Larson said in response to Hudnall. "He used all of the correct words, and this shows that he understands what the law is. It is now my responsibility to demonstrate that he is not telling the truth. I have already done so to the satisfaction of the EEOC. I am prepared to do so before the school board, and the district at the scheduled reconciliation hearing, and I will also be pleased to do so in federal court if necessary."

Larson said the entire problem is the discrimination that has taken place.

[Larson] is not LDS. He has lived in Orem for 25 years. He says discrimination is very unusual in the area and not the typical experience for him.

"The reason I am pursuing this action is not to win the lottery. I'm pursuing this issue because a principle has been violated. This could have happened to a Latter-Day Saint, a Jew, a Catholic or anyone else that was different, and that's why I'm doing this."

According to district officials, Independence School decided to bring the JROTC to the school. They decided it would cost about $50,000 to adopt the JROTC program.

It seemed better to school officials to cut social studies and some other programs, since the JROTC would take care of the those subjects under its own program.

The 1993-94, Independence School enrollment fluctuated from 150 students to 500 and then back down to 200 at the end of the year. During this time teachers were hired to accommodate the increase in students at the school.

By the end of the year, the number was back down to 200 and so the school could not afford the extra teachers and decided to let 17 staff teachers go because they were not needed.

Jacobsen said when he became the superintendent in July 1994, he received a grievance file from the 17 teachers who said the school should not have let them go.

Later, the district courts ruled that the 17 teachers did not have any legal basis for their complaints.

In 1993, Steven E. Thompson, a Brown University scholar, said Larson's book is one of the best sources of information on the Book of Abraham and Egyptology.


@BYU Newsline: April 18, 1997


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