Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sacked West Virginia Teacher Denies Allegations She Turned Her Pupils Gay

Kelli Burns, (Right) Interviews with local paper.

By Brody Levesque | HAMLIN, WV -- The Lincoln County Board of Education in Hamlin,WV last Thursday voted to terminate Guyan Valley Middle School teacher Kelli Burns after thirteen contentious hours of hearings and testimony over a three day period of time spanning the past two months. Burns, who is openly lesbian, in an interview told The Lincoln Journal that she was comfortable exposing what she termed the "completely inexcusable trashing” of her sexuality and her "so-called lifestyle” by the school system.
Speaking with LGBTQ Nation Thursday, The Lincoln Journal's Managing Editor, Sean O'Donoghue said that Burns told the paper that the school system and the board’s legal counsel had "stooped low” in allowing "unbelievably spurious and slanderous unsubstantiated statements” about her personally and professionally to be presented as evidence.
"Their actions and words, all of them, will come back to haunt them in one way or another as this whole debacle plays out in the press and courts. This includes those witnesses who, in their testimony against me, stooped so low as to disparage my personal and professional self with libel and slander, with especial attention to criticizing my sexuality and so called lifestyle. 
As well as (board counsel) Rebecca Tinder, who allowed completely low and spurious evidence that I tried to turn students gay and forced them to cross dress, among numerous equally slanderous and utterly untrue statements in her official prosecution of me,” said Burns.
She also voiced her dismay at board members for allowing what she termed an "unbelievable circus” to continue.
The investigation into Burns started January 25, 2013, when she was presented with an initial termination notice which was signed by schools Superintendent Patricia Lucas, who immediately suspended Burns without pay and recommended to the school board that she be fired.
According to the reporting in The Lincoln Journal, the specific grounds for dismissal leveled against Burns were not revealed by Lucas or her central office team per school district policy. School Board members are also precluded from discussing the hearings which were conducted behind closed doors.
During the hearing process, it was also alleged that Burns had shown naked pictures of herself to students using an iPad, an allegation she vehemently denied to the paper.
The story has been a hot topic for discussion with locals in this small mountain town and as an ongoing front page story for The Lincoln Journal newspaper, which itself has come under fire for publishing a comment made to the paper's telephone "Gripes and Gratitudes" line Tuesday referencing the Burns story.
The anonymous caller left a voice-mail message that said:
"We were really glad to hear that School Board is getting rid of them queers. The next thing is we need to get rid of all the niggers, the spics, the kikes and the wops. You know even them Catholics, they are wrong as baby eaters. We need to clear them people out and have good, white, God fearing Christians and everybody else needs to be put to death for their abominations. We'll keep Lincoln County white and right. Thank you."
During Thursday's interview with LGBTQ Nation, the paper's Managing Editor O'Donoghue noted, that in his opinion, the voice-mail left was no different than an unsigned letter to the editor. In context with the comments left on the paper's website and in the various conversations and discussions that are ongoing around town, he felt it appropriate to highlight the comment.
In an op-ed published Thursday, O'Donoghue wrote:
The person who submitted the gripe to our gripe line last week ... [...] Our staff debated whether to publish the gripe this week, given the hatred and bigotry expressed by the caller. The gripe was submitted in response to the ongoing teacher firing story.
[...] The caller also wanted the county to get rid of the Catholics, who he termed "baby eaters.” The usual disconnect between the expressions of hate and the supposed Christianity of the caller was on full display. We decided to publish the gripe to show that such levels of ignorance and intolerance remain in full force in our communities. All readers are entitled to their views on the teacher firing story, and indeed any story that we publish. We feel pity, however, for those who resort to racial slurs to give full voice to their "beliefs” and their "godliness. 
O'Donoghue Interviews Burns -- WATCH: