Scott Graves
Curry Coastal Pilot

A Brookings-Harbor High School English teacher has resigned following controversy over a piece of literature he handed out to students that riled parents and created a firestorm of comments on social media sites.

Teacher Chris McConnell, who was also the golf coach, turned in his resignation, effective Thursday, administrators said Friday.

Prior to that, school officials had remained mum while they investigated complaints by parents and students that the material McConnell handed out was inappropriate.

The focus of the controversy was an excerpt from the short story "Ten Little Indians" written by Sherman Alexi. The passage contains explicit descriptions of various methods of male masturbation.

The Pilot's multiple attempts to reach McConnell for comment this week were unsuccessful.

McConnell was put on paid leave for several days nearly two weeks ago when administrators received the first complaints. He was allowed to return to his job while the school's principal and superintendent investigate the complaints further.

"I wish I could say more at this time, perhaps to calm down parents, but all I can say is, we are taking the complaints seriously and we are investigating the matter," Superintendent Brian Hodge said earlier this week.

Hodge said district policy and the district's contract with teachers prevents him from divulging more information about the case.

"If I could tell the parents exactly what we are doing, they might be satisfied, but legally I can't at this time," he said.

On Wednesday, school board chairwoman Katherine Johnson sympathized with parents, but asked them to let administrators follow district protocol in handling the situation.

"I know where the parents are coming from, and I am asking them to trust us," Johnson said. "I know that's asking a lot, but we are taking their complaints seriously and investigating them."

On Friday, parent Donny Gallian, whose eleventh-grade daughter brought home the questionable material from McConnell's class, said the teacher's resignation does not eliminate the issue.

"It doesn't address the issue of whether the material was inappropriate or not," Gallian said.

He and a group of other parents still plan to attend the June 18 school board meeting, he said.

As for McConnell's resignation, Gallian said, "I don't want to see someone lose their job, but if he chose to resign as opposed to explaining his actions to the school board and parents, then it would be appropriate."

According to Gallian and other parents, McConnell, who had worked at the district for less than two years and was still on probationary status, distributed printouts of the material to students and used it for class discussion. Some parents learned of the assignment when their children, troubled by the material, came home and talked about it.

Other parents learned about it when, on May 30, Gallian posted the excerpt on his Facebook page.

He wrote, "This is not OK. Voice your concern, contact the High School or District office and be heard if you think distributing PORNOGRAPHY to our children is wrong."

He posted an image of the teacher's handout and apologized for the graphic nature of the material.

As of Friday, his post had received nearly 300 comments.

A majority of the comments came from parents and several students from McConnell's class who found the material offensive. A few people defended the teacher and the material, saying it was no worse than what teenagers are already exposed to. Several of McConnell's students posted comments, some defending their teacher, others outraged by the assignment.

Without comment from McConnell or school officials, there are many things the Pilot and parents don't know for certain about the circumstances surrounding the teacher's decision to hand out the material.

For example:

andbull;What is the history of this classroom learning experience; i.e. were students prepared to tackle the subject matter of this literature?

andbull;Was the objectionable excerpt presented as part of the book or separately?

andbull;Did students who objected to the excerpt have an opportunity to accept an alternative assignment?

andbull;Was the teacher's lesson plan and related material vetted by any of his peers or department head?

Gallian said he hopes to get answers to those questions and more at the next school board meeting.

"These are serious things that still need to be addressed," he said.