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South Medford teacher asked to remove Black Lives Matter poster

A South Medford High School law and social studies teacher unintentionally upset parents the first week of school when, first, he hung a Black Lives Matter poster in his classroom and, second, was mistakenly accused of labeling Democratic as “good” and Republicans as “bad.” 

Photos taken by a student of Paul Cynar, who started teaching with the Medford School District in August, next to a Black Lives Matter poster and another of a “T-chart” on his white board, on which "Democratic" was listed in the "good" column and Republicans in the "bad" column, were circulated by parents, emailed to the media and addressed on the local morning radio show hosted by Bill Meyer.

District spokeswoman Natalie Hurd said Cynar took the Black Lives Matter poster off the bulletin board in his classroom more than two weeks ago after SMHS Principal Damian Crowson asked him to remove it.

“(Cynar) took it down, no problem,” Hurd said, adding that his compliance made it a “nonissue.”

“You don’t check your constitutional rights at the door when you become a teacher, but when expressing your own opinion in dialogue, you need to make sure students know it’s your opinion,” she added, citing School Board Policy INB, “Teaching about controversial issues,” and Policy GBG, “Staff participation in political activities.”

According to those policies and the district’s official statement on the issue, teachers may express their opinions so long as they “indicate that their opinions are theirs alone and not the official position of the school district,” don’t let their views dominate the conversation, and are willing to hear, acknowledge and value other opinions.

“When a teacher posts, somewhat permanently, a statement of political nature on a bulletin board, it may be deemed as an inappropriate expression of opinion and should not be posted unless all sides of the issue are posted,” the district’s statement read. “In this case, the principal asked the teacher to remove the sign, and the teacher complied.”

In regard to the T-chart, the photo was viewed out of context as the T-chart was part of a student-led discussion.

Cynar explained in a statement to the district that, as part of a discussion in his pre-law class about how laws are formed, he had asked students to read John Locke’s “Second Treatise on Government” and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “The Social Contract.”

“We began with a discussion regarding whether people are fundamentally good (altruistic), or bad (selfish), and if this influences the creation of laws which we find in our country,” he said. “During the class discussion, and in response to the readings, we had a conversation about human nature and what types of laws a society may create depending on which view that society holds. I used a T-chart to record the conversation. The T-chart had the headings ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ Although this T-chart was used as a way to organize student ideas and to address preconceived notions, it was never meant to make broader claims about the truth of these ideas.”

Before coming to work for the Medford School District, Cynar taught at Lee Magnet High School in Baton Rouge, La., according to his Facebook page.

“It was never, and will never be my intent to change anyone’s ideas or beliefs, but simply to encourage students to grapple with other views and attempt to address these views on merit alone,” he said in his statement.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

South Medford teacher asked to remove Black Lives Matter poster