Teacher sues school after losing job for defending student artwork

TEXAS — Following a debate over student artworkand free expression, a Texas high school teacher who was dismissedfor saying he would talk to the news media about the controversyhas filed a lawsuit against the school.

Grady Roper, who taught art and journalism at the KatherineAnne Porter School, a public charter school in Wimberley, wasfired last fall after defending artwork by some of his students.On June 28, the Texas Civil Rights Project filed the wrongfuldischarge suit on his behalf.

“Public employees are guarded from retaliatory dischargesbecause of comments or opinions they have expressed concerningpublic issues,” the petition states. “[Roper] cannotbe discharged for attempting to expose this matter to the public.”

Principal Yanda Bland said the school “completely deniesall allegations.” She declined further comment.

At the center of the controversy was a 30-by-10-foot muralin the school’s hallway that Roper’s students were given permissionto paint. As the mural initially developed there was no debate,until a painting covering a 2-by-2-foot section of the wall portrayedtwo men kissing. According to a press release from the Texas CivilRights Project, the picture “was not erotic or provocativeand merely depicted two men with their lips touching.”

The school board felt the portion of the mural was “inappropriate,”while a meeting of 18 faculty members decided unanimously to standbehind the artwork. Despite the disagreement, the school boardhad the artwork whitewashed on a weekend without consulting Roperor his class.

The students, who had spent weeks working on the project, wereenraged. One student protested the school board’s decision bypainting the First Amendment on a large piece of plywood and leaningit against the wall. Roper even threatened to contact the localmedia to voice his concerns. Following the incidents, a schooladministrator fired Roper for not acting like a “team player.”

Roper’s attorney, Andrea Gunn, said Roper is seeking to regainhis job, lost wages, attorney’s fees and a court order prohibitingany further violations of the First Amendment on campus.

“The case is fairly clear cut,” Gunn said. “[Roper]went in and told the administration he wanted to tell the presswhat happened, and he was subsequently terminated.”

Gunn estimated the case should be resolved by March or Aprilof 2002.