LAUSD should let this science teacher teach

Students and parents are calling for the return of a popular science teacher who was suspended from the classroom after students turned in projects that appeared dangerous to administrators. Supporters rallied outside the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts and have gathered hundreds of signatures on a petition that calls for the return of teacher Greg Schiller.
(Nick Ut / Associated Press)

In February, Los Angeles Unified School District officials suspended a teacher after two of his students turned in science projects that administrators thought looked like guns. Even granting that school officials have a right to be hypersensitive these days about anything resembling a weapon, their decision to remove him from the classroom was a harmful overreaction.

It’s also hard to understand why the investigation into this seemingly simple matter has taken more than a month. Science teacher Greg Schiller cannot return to teaching at the Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts until it is resolved.

The projects, according to a report in The Times, included a device that could use compressed air to propel a small object but that couldn’t be fired because it wasn’t connected to a source of air pressure, and a coil gun, a standard in the world of science fairs.


Since his suspension, Schiller’s students have been taught by a substitute teacher. A student told The Times that in one of the classes, Advanced Placement psychology, the substitute didn’t know the course material and the class had become the equivalent of a free period. Schiller also taught AP biology, and the AP tests are next month; this is usually an intensive prep period for the exams. During his suspension, Schiller also is barred from coaching the fencing team and fulfilling his role as the campus’ union representative, dealing with various disputes over the teachers’ work agreement.

Not every lapse of teacher judgment, if that’s indeed what this was, calls for an investigation. And if the district wants to lay to rest its reputation as a slow-moving bureaucracy in which procedure takes precedence over learning, it needs to stop acting like one.

Perhaps there is more to the story. The district says it is prohibited from discussing the matter while the probe is ongoing, while students, parents and union representatives are free to talk. But so far it seems straightforward: No one denies that Schiller oversaw the two projects. No one was hurt by them. President Obama tried out something similar to the air-pressure device — one that could and did propel marshmallows up to 175 feet — at the White House Science Fair in 2012.

Schiller is a veteran teacher, and there are no indications that his students have ever been harmed by him. All that is needed is some common sense: Investigate by all means, but in the meantime, allow popular, rigorous teachers like Schiller, who are not a danger to their students, to remain in the classroom, teaching.