By Matt Pizzuti, PQ Monthly
The Portland special ed teacher and Teacher of the Year who claims he’s been harassed, censured and threatened with termination after telling audiences at speaking engagements that he’s gay was fired April 3 during a meeting with the district.
Previous to being fired, Brett Bigham, Oregon’s 2014 Teacher of the Year and the 2015 Teacher of the Year for the Oregon Education Association, was on paid administrative leave since March 22. At the time he said he wasn’t given a reason why he was put on leave.
“They sent a letter to my lawyer, but nobody came to my room,” Bigham said. “No request for sub plans, no asking me to facilitate a handover, at 3:30 I hauled out my favorite plants and a box of my stuff, locked the door and left.”
PQ Monthly first reported about Bigham in the March/April 2015 edition.
Oregon’s teacher’s union had been requesting Bigham be allowed to return to the classroom in the district administration building where he taught life skills to 18-21-year-olds with special needs, and Bigham now says he and the union will request that he be reinstated as a teacher.
The Multnomah Education Service District said in an April 3 press release that Bigham was fired for not focusing his students and missing too much class time, which Bigham disputes. Laura Conroy, a spokesperson for the district, said Bigham had refused mediation.
Previous to learning he was fired, Bigham had told PQ Monthly that the district’s offer to discuss a settlement was a non-starter for him because it would require him to sign a nondisclosure agreement, and he felt he needed a chance to restore his public reputation.
The school district—which has top administrators among those named in Bigham’s complaints filed with the state—released its own report after hiring an independent investigator to look into the situation. The report said there was no bullying or harassment and that many of Bigham’s concerns boiled down to miscommunication.
In a Facebook status update dated March 24, Bigham said the MESD report was “chock full of dishonesty” and said the district had altered the copy handed over to the press.
In the meantime, Bigham has been following worldwide news reports of his own story online as they roll in from places as far away as Canada, the United Kingdom and Nigeria. Bigham continued to join public conversations on education issues as Teacher of the Year, and was honored March 23 on the House floor at the state capitol.
Bigham has filed civil rights complaints with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, where the findings of a separate investigation are pending. The first complaint in 2014 addressed Bigham’s view that he was being harassed and intimidated for reasons related to stating publicly that he was gay.
The updated complaint to BOLI, filed March 8, addresses Bigham’s ongoing interactions with the district and his claims that his supervisors retaliated against him for filing the first one. Retaliation for filing a civil rights complaint is illegal regardless of whether the original complaint turns out to be upheld.
Check back with PQ Monthly for updates on this breaking story.