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Geneva teacher accused of making bigoted remarks in class
By Susan Sarkauskas | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 10/9/2009 3:19 PM

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Geneva school authorities are investigating a student's complaint that a teacher made bigoted remarks to a classroom full of students Monday.

Senior Jordan Hunter of Geneva said teacher Dave Burk, talking about taxes, told students in a consumer education class that tax dollars were wasted on art education.

Hunter said Burk, using an offensive slang word for homosexual, asked students how they would like "their taxpayer dollars" being spent for one black homosexual photographer to take pictures of another black homosexual man.

Hunter was shocked.

"I'm openly gay. For me, it was personally extremely offensive," Hunter said.

After class, Hunter went to a dean to complain. He was asked to provide a written statement of what happened. He was also granted his request to be assigned to a different consumer education class. Hunter said the dean was "very helpful and cooperative," and told him the administration was taking the matter "very seriously."

Hunter discussed the matter with friends, one of whom told her mother, who contacted the Daily Herald.

The district released a written statement Wednesday: "The District is investigating allegations that a Geneva High School teacher made an inappropriate comment to students on Monday, Oct. 5. These kinds of allegations are always taken seriously, and, if warranted, appropriate disciplinary actions will be taken. Because this is a personnel matter, neither the District nor the Board of Education will offer any further comment."

Officials would not release the teacher's name nor whether the teacher remains in the classroom during the investigation.

Messages seeking comment were left Thursday on Burk's school voice mail and his school e-mail. A message was also left on the home phone of a person with the same name who lives in Geneva. None were returned as of Friday.

"We treat all complaints respectfully," said Craig Collins, the district's assistant superintendent for human resources.

When anyone makes a complaint about a teacher, the school principal or other administrators begin asking for facts, and may interview other people besides the complainant. Generally speaking, Collins said, a teacher remains in the classroom during the investigation, unless officials think there is the possibility he or she may harm students (for example, sexual or physical abuse.) The goal is to start and finish an investigation quickly, Collins said. "We want to be responsive to both students and parents," he said.

Teachers have due-process rights guaranteed by the Illinois School Code, he said. Only the school board can fire a teacher. But other disciplinary actions, including reprimands and suspensions, can be administered by principals and district administrators.

Hunter said other students told him the teacher made the same statement in other classes that day, so he does not believe it was a spur-of-the moment, slip-of-the-tongue thing.

Hunter said it particularly bothers him this happened in a required course that is taught by only three teachers, meaning at least 33 percent of students have had this teacher.

Hunter has not talked to Burk since the alleged incident.

"I don't understand why he would say this. I have no idea where it came from," Hunter said.

"People need to know. This is someone influencing the children of Geneva with their tax dollars."