Belchertown teacher put on leave following ‘disturbing’ Facebook post

  • Belchertown High School

@ecutts_HG
Published: 1/5/2017 6:06:29 PM

BELCHERTOWN — A high school teacher has been placed on paid administrative leave following a Facebook post one school official described as “disturbing.”

The teacher, whom the district declined to identify, was put on leave Wednesday, according to school officials.

“We have policies in our handbook as to professional expectations and as in this case, this particular person was not in compliance with what we expect from our teachers,” Superintendent Karol Coffin said Thursday. “We felt it was better for all of our students to have the opportunity to have a different person in the classroom.”

Coffin would not comment on the content of the Dec. 30 post but said it “absolutely raised red flags” for the district.

In a screenshot of that post obtained by the Gazette and later found on Twitter, the teacher appeared to be commenting on a post about the history of slavery made Dec. 29 by a former Belchertown High School student.

The Dec. 30 post is under the name of Mark Horan. On his Facebook profile, Horan identifies himself as a Belchertown High School mathematics and computer science teacher. Belchertown High School’s website lists Mark Horan as a mathematics teacher.

The Gazette made two calls Thursday to the home of a Mark Horan in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, which is the community listed on his Facebook page. In both cases, the telephone was picked up and quickly hung up again.

The post under Horan’s name claims that slavery always has existed and implies that it is still practiced by Muslims. The post, which uses vulgar language, ends with the remark: “you are to fing stupid to be allowed to breed.”

Dawn French, chairwoman of the School Committee, said parents had sent her multiple screenshots of that Facebook post.

“Just as a human being and as a person, it is not a feel-good thread,” French said. “There is definitely a lot of hostility there and it is disturbing.”

French confirmed that the Facebook post reviewed by the Gazette was the same post that led school officials to place the high school teacher on leave. Neither French nor Coffin would confirm the name of the teacher, citing confidentiality laws.

“Both as a parent and a chairperson, I find it completely unacceptable. It is quite a disturbing post,” French said. “I completely support the district’s position to place this teacher on leave.”

Coffin said the teacher placed on leave is in his fifth year in the Belchertown schools, and she could not comment if there had been any previous disciplinary actions against him.

Coffin said the district became aware of the Facebook post on Tuesday from someone in the community.

“We have many of our families and our staff on Facebook,” she said. “When they have encountered something, they contact the school or this office. That is how we became aware of it.”

When asked how the school confirmed the teacher had made the post, Coffin said “we were presented with it, we saw it, were able to access it so that confirmed it for us.”

When a staff member is put on administrative leave, depending on the incident and its severity, the person could come to an agreement to leave the district or reach some other “remediation,” Coffin said.

The process for the teacher in question has already begun but it is uncertain when a final decision will be made, Coffin said.

“We want parents to be assured that we are providing their child with a safe, positive learning environment, and that we hold our staff — they hold themselves — to a higher standard and we intend to continue that practice,” Coffin said. “We do have excellent teachers here and they really care about their students.”

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.




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