CPT John Parker Fired from Teaching Gig for Going to War
CPT John Parker was fired from a Tennessee high school for getting called up to fight in Afghanistan. His superintendant thought he should have told the Army he had other plans.
A Wilson County soldier went to war and now is fighting another battle back here at home. Capt. John Parker says he was forced to decide between serving his country and saving his job as a school teacher.
Like so many soldiers who have helped fight the war on terror, Capt. John Parker put his life on the line every day while he was deployed in Afghanistan. “I signed up to serve my country,” Parker tells NewsChannel 5 investigative reporter Jennifer Kraus. And serve he did, which is why he was so shocked at how he was treated when he came back home to Wilson County.
He went back to Wilson Central High School after his first year-long tour in Afghanistan. And, after a second tour of duty there, he expected to return to the classroom again.
Parker should have had no problem going back to work thanks to a special federal law that protects soldiers like Parker. It guarantees that, when they come home from their deployment, they’ll get their old jobs back for at least a year. But just one month after Parker went back to work, the Wilson County School system told him his teaching contract was not being renewed and he was out of a job. Wilson County Director of Schools Dr. Jim Duncan, the man who sent the letter informing Parker that he was being let go, insists that “he was not fired.”
Duncan maintains that the teacher-turned-soldier was told not to return to school the next year because there just weren’t enough students signed up for Parker’s class. But Duncan also admits that he had problems with Parker being sent to Afghanistan not once, but twice. “It was like we got these classes going and you’re supposed to be the teacher,” Duncan tells Kraus. “So, you’re saying his teaching position should have been his priority?” Kraus asks. “Firmly. Yes.”
But it doesn’t matter what Duncan thinks. In a document put out by the National School Boards Association, it’s spelled out in black and white that a soldier’s job is protected when he’s called to service. But despite the law, the director of schools says he still feels that when class started, instead of being on the battlefield, Parker should have been in the classroom. “Could he have said something to his superiors? ‘Look, I really need to get back there. If everything is equal, I need to get back there (to Wilson Central High School) January 3rd because that’s when my class starts and I need to be with those kids for the full semester.'”
Yes, that’s exactly how the Army works. Sigh.
The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) would certainly seem to protect Parker in this case.
USERRA provides that returning service-members are reemployed in the job that they would have attained had they not been absent for military service (the long-standing “escalator” principle), with the same seniority, status and pay, as well as other rights and benefits determined by seniority. USERRA also requires that reasonable efforts (such as training or retraining) be made to enable returning service members to refresh or upgrade their skills to help them qualify for reemployment. The law clearly provides for alternative reemployment positions if the service member cannot qualify for the “escalator” position. USERRA also provides that while an individual is performing military service, he or she is deemed to be on a furlough or leave of absence and is entitled to the non-seniority rights accorded other individuals on non-military leaves of absence.
Then there’s the issue of common decency. . . .
See Blackfive for much more on this case.