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Bigotry? Lincoln County mess

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Legislature passed Gov. Tomblin's plan to improve dismal test scores of West Virginia students, giving more authority to county school boards, but here's a pathetic example of what happens at the county board level:

In Lincoln County, middle school teacher Kelli Burns and her mother filed allegations that some teachers and administrators were fostering "continued, widespread and pervasive cheating on standardized tests." Burns told the Lincoln Journal the county board's only action was "sweeping the whole thing under the carpet."

The teacher also told the weekly newspaper that her mother reported "massive misuse of federal and state monies given to Lincoln County schools for services to be provided for children, including after-school programs that never happened, despite 'staff' being hired and paid to carry them out."

And Burns also alleged that "a number of current teachers, mostly men but a few women, still carry on flagrantly breaking the law with underage students -- yet they try to paint me as some kind of sexual predator, 'trying to turn students gay.'"

The Journal says the Lincoln board first fired teacher Burns on Jan. 13, then held three days of secret hearings about her on Feb. 21, March 2 and March 7, then unanimously upheld her dismissal. No reason was given for her termination. The weekly quoted the teacher as saying school personnel called her "a raging lesbian." Burns is appealing her firing.

The Hamlin newspaper lets readers comment anonymously on news events, and one voiced a hate-filled rant against "them queers." In gutter language, it also denounced blacks, Jews, Hispanics and Catholics. "We need to clear them people out and have good, white, God-fearing Christians, and everybody else needs to be put to death for their abominations. We'll keep Lincoln County white and right."

Frankly, we wondered if this diatribe might be a sarcastic joke -- but it's sweeping America as an example of cruel racism in Appalachia. Numerous news outlets and Web sites have reprinted it. The Washington Post captioned it, "Breathtaking bigotry in West Virginia."

Lincoln Journal Managing Editor Sean O'Donoghue told the Huffington Post that his newspaper printed the comment to show "that there are people in our community capable of such hateful things."

We hope the appeal by teacher Burns flushes out public information, so West Virginians will know whether she was fired because of her perceived sexual orientation or because of her whistleblower allegations or what?

Under the golden dome, legislators gave county school boards more control over education, in hope of raising student scores. Judging from the turmoil in Lincoln County, we aren't optimistic that scores will soar.


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