L.A. teacher wins job back after removal for science projects
A Los Angeles high school science teacher is returning to the classroom two months after being suspended over concerns that two students had assembled “dangerous” science projects under his supervision.
Both projects overseen by teacher Greg Schiller were capable of launching small objects. A staff member at the downtown Cortines School of Visual & Performing Arts had raised concerns about one of them. Both are common in science fairs.
“I am very excited to be back with my students and help them prepare for the Advanced Placement tests, which are a week away,” Schiller said Thursday. “We have a lot of work ahead of ourselves.”
In a meeting with a senior district administrator, Schiller was told he could return to work Friday, L.A. Unified confirmed.
His classes include Advanced Placement Biology and Advanced Placement Psychology.
Parents and students had quickly rallied behind Schiller. Facebook pages were launched; petitions were circulated. Some students complained that they were being taught by unqualified substitutes. Supporters vowed to rally every Thursday and Friday until his return. A walkout and protest at L.A. Unified school district headquarters was planned for Monday.
Schiller, 43, had volunteered to help students with entries for science contests. He assisted them with ideas related to chemistry and physics, even though he didn’t teach those subjects.
Schiller had yet to see either finished display when a school employee noticed one on exhibit in the cafeteria on Feb. 26. Pieces of the other project were in Schiller’s classroom.
One of the projects, called a coil gun, was made by ninth-grader Asa Ferguson. It used a magnetic charge powered by an AA battery to launch a small object several feet. His parents, Rogan and Susan Ferguson, both are teachers in L.A. Unified.
The other project was designed to use air pressure for propulsion. A more powerful version was tried out by President Obama at a recent White House science fair.
When the employee complained, administrators summoned Schiller, immediately sent him home and suspended him. He was ordered to report daily, with pay, to an administrative office where teachers under investigation must wait out the workday until their cases are resolved.
During Schiller’s absence from the school, teachers union President Warren Fletcher weighed in, saying that the instructor was being punished for teaching science. Union leaders also insisted that Schiller was one of many teachers unfairly caught up in investigations for overly lengthy periods.
District officials insisted that they try to handle these probes as fairly and quickly as possible.
Schiller said he doesn’t know if the matter is entirely concluded.
He still could face discipline. The district declined to say that Schiller had been exonerated.
Schiller also coached the school’s fencing team, and administrators determined the team could not compete safely without Schiller in charge. As a result, the team did not take part in the year’s biggest competition.
In addition, Schiller was the teachers union representative on campus and had been dealing with disagreements with administrators over updating the employment agreement under which the faculty works.
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