A driver’s education teacher from a south suburb of Chicago has been fired for refusing to instruct a student who refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Driver’s ed teacher Vince Ziebarth was summarily fired by Dwight D. Eisenhower High School in south suburban Blue Island for making “inappropriate comments” to Shemar Cooper, a student who would not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Ziebarth was a District 218 teacher since 2009 and had been a full-time driver’s ed teacher since 2014.
Late last year Shemar Cooper refused to stand for the anthem because, in his learned opinion, “America sucks.” The incident didn’t end there as he has been the subject of much talk in the school, and at least one teacher hoped to make the whole thing a teaching moment.
Kelly Porter, the student’s mother, claimed that Ziebarth told her son, “If you want to drive with me, you have to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.”
The student’s mother also insisted that the teacher “violated” her son’s First Amendment rights, but Ziebarth disputes that claim, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“I told him he can make a choice to sit, but as long as you choose to sit, you will not sit in my (driver’s ed) vehicle. I did not tell him what to do,” the teacher said.
Ziebarth also said he tried to use the boy’s refusal to stand for the Pledge as a teaching moment.
“I told him I stand to honor the sacrifice and bravery of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. It doesn’t mean America is perfect, or that we agree with everything going on,” Ziebarth, who comes from a long line of military service members, told the paper.
“We had an understanding. He was making a choice, and I was making a choice. His name never appeared on my sign-up sheet again, so I thought it was over,” Ziebarth added.
Ziebarth said he didn’t think there was a real problem between the two because the student had joked about the whole situation several times afterward. He was especially surprised because the confrontation happened months ago.
“I honestly had no idea, that’s how long ago it was. I didn’t even know where the principal’s office was. I’ve got a sterling reputation in this district,” Ziebarth said.
The teacher also says the school overreacted by summarily firing him without giving him a way to address the situation. “I was given no options. Had the principal told me I had to allow Shemar in my car, I would have,” he said.
A large number of students seem to agree that the school mistreated the popular teacher. An online petition at Change.org titled, “Get Mr. Z back at Ike,” has garnered over one thousand signatures.
“Mr. Z is an amazing teacher, brought life into the students life, whenever they had a bad day he was always there! He knew everyone and supported you through everything,” the petition reads. “Gave us great life lessons and taugh(t) us how to #DOMINATE. He taught us how to be one of a kind, and never settle for anything less! He was loved by all, cared for by many. Bring driver ed Z back!!! ”
Thank you, everyone, for the overwhelming support. It means more to me than you will ever know. I was very lucky to be a part of your lives.
— Driver Ed Z 🚗💤 (@DriverEd_Z) March 17, 2017
After Ziebarth had been fired, the student’s mother began complaining about another issue, saying that now her son is being blamed for the firing of a popular teacher.
“One of the kids actually stood up in the classroom and yelled at Shemar, ‘You got Mr. Z fired!’ and he and my son got into a big argument,” Porter told Chicago’s CBS affiliate. “So I’m just hoping it doesn’t escalate any further.”
“I hope my son can get through the next two years and not get harassed,” Porter exclaimed.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.