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Students rally for ousted Westview teacher

Bert Stafford's plans unclear after he failed to complete licensure coursework


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Westview High School students and alumni surround Bert Stafford after addressing the Beaverton School Board Monday night to plead for an exception that would allow him to return to the classroom.An impassioned plea by a group of Westview High School students at Monday’s Beaverton School Board meeting may not be enough to reverse a beloved teacher’s termination, but it’s some consolation to the teacher in question that his civics lessons hit their mark.

Several students spoke out during the public comment portion of the monthly meeting for the board to spare Bert Stafford, a history and civics instructor whose teaching license expired on Aug. 13, 2013. Despite a 120-day grace period from that date to allow Stafford time to complete the necessary coursework to retain his position, the teacher apparently failed to complete the process in a timely manner, effectively letting his teaching license lapse.

Following protocol established by the Oregon Teachers Standards & Practices Commission, district officials terminated Stafford as of Monday.

His last day teaching at Westview was Friday, Dec. 20, the final school day of 2013 before winter break.

Uma Ilavarasan, a Westview junior, was one of five former Stafford students to address board members on what she believes as the district’s unfair treatment of her teacher.

“Keeping the interests of students in mind, this teacher’s ‘high-caliber’ status would be a safeguard against a mere mis-checked box, a failure to turn in papers despite completing necessary coursework,” she said. “It is my belief, and the belief of many people here tonight, that the district should never terminate a teacher over a relatively minor infraction, because they would understand that such a severe, unproportional reaction to a small shortcoming would be extremely detrimental to the students that teacher instructed, mentored and loved.”

Jackie Salzinger, who led the student initiative, called on the board to demonstrate in Stafford’s case what she characterized as the district’s recent commitment to better engage with students, parents and the community.

“The BSD should look at Mr. Stafford’s situation and feel solidarity,” Salzinger said, citing Superintendent Jeff Rose’s recent “WE” initiative. “It should fight to keep him, it should bend over backwards to keep this man in the classroom where he belongs, not only because he’s a valuable asset to our schools but because he is a member of the BSD family, a member of ‘WE.’ Furthermore, it’s not even just that Mr. Stafford deserves a job, but more that as students, ‘WE’ deserve Mr. Stafford as a teacher.”

The board took no action on the personnel matter as the issue was not before it to consider. Rose did, however, take time to address students, saying he was impressed with their loyalty and action. He thanked students for their comments and noted that Stafford must be very proud of their effort.

During a break following the public testimony portion of the meeting, Stafford, who declined to speak before the board, called the student testimony “the best send-off a teacher can have.”

“One thing I teach is political efficacy,” he noted. “This is the best civics lesson they could have, and they performed

brilliantly.”

Stafford, who the district hired as a Westview social studies teacher in August 2003, used the meeting lull to introduce himself to each of the six board members in attendance.

“This is all way more than I deserve,” he said of his reasons for not testifying before the board himself. “I am here to support the students. It was their initiative. It was their arguments.”

Stafford, 65, a former civil attorney, was apparently under the impression a series of history seminars he took in recent years counted toward the college credits the standards commission requires.

Asked if he’s enrolled in the classes needed to renew his license, Stafford said he hadn’t.

“I am literally suspending my actions to see what happens,” he said, adding he “might (take the classes) as a matter of principle.”

Maureen Wheeler, the district’s public communication officer, said the human resources department contacts teachers three months before their licensure is set to expire. The department offers assistance, including referrals to the state standards board for questions human resources staff can’t answer.

“The human resources department works diligently with teachers as needed,” she said, noting the logistical challenges in keeping track of 2,000 teachers and their licensure statuses. “You can imagine trying to keep track of all the (possible) exceptions if (the state) didn’t have the standards.

“Mr. Stafford had a number of months to get his coursework done,” she added. “He received a lot of notices from the TSPC, so this isn’t something that should be a surprise.”

To regain his position or another role in the district, Stafford would need to reapply “as if a brand-new employee.”

If anything makes the case unique, Wheeler noted, it’s the level of student involvement, which includes a petition called “SOS: Save Our Stafford” and extensive praise for Stafford on the change.org website.

Wheeler acknowledged Stafford’s connection to Westview.

“He’s got a following with students,” she said. “They think very highly of him.”

News editor Christina Lent contributed to this story.




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