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Originally published Thursday, November 29, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Protesting teacher back at Tukwila school

A Tukwila teacher who walked out with his students as part of an anti-war protest two weeks ago was back in his classroom Wednesday after...

Seattle Times education reporter

A Tukwila teacher who walked out with his students as part of an anti-war protest two weeks ago was back in his classroom Wednesday after a week on paid leave.

Anti-war protesters say school officials backed away, because of public pressure, from plans to discipline the teacher and five other teachers who were involved with the walkout. Outraged students and community members packed the Tukwila School Board meeting room Tuesday night to support the teachers, whom the district had threatened with termination if they discussed the walkout.

But district leaders say the teachers were never really in trouble. They said they put the social-studies teacher, Brett Rogers, on leave just to investigate. He resumed work Wednesday because a portion of the investigation was completed, said School Board member Patti Maltsberger.

Of the teachers involved, Rogers is the only one who left school. He couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.

"We don't consider it discipline at all," said district spokeswoman Jan Lande.

Students all over the country participated in a nationwide student protest Nov. 16 by walking out of classes. Among them were about 125 students at Foster High School, who walked out at 9:15 a.m., rallied around the flagpole, marched to the Interstate 5 overpass and past the Tukwila City Hall, then returned to school in time for lunch.

Maltsberger said the debate over the six teachers — dubbed the "Tukwila Six" by supporters — is fueled by misinformation. War protesters are accusing the district of curbing free speech, she said, but it's really about student safety.

"They have the right to their free speech," she said of the teachers. "What's not right is when they leave a classroom without permission, unattended."

A Nov. 20 memo sent to the teachers said the district was investigating "reports of possible misconduct relating to you in connection with the student walkout and demonstration." It said the matter "could have disciplinary consequences" and warned them that talking about the issue with anyone but their union representatives "could lead to independent disciplinary action, including termination of your employment."

Washington Education Association spokesman Rich Wood confirmed that the Tukwila teachers union is representing the six teachers.

Nathan Bowling, a Tacoma teacher who helped organize Tuesday night's demonstration, said the students — not Rogers — came up with the idea to stage a walkout. Rogers, he said, taught them a "life lesson" by supporting them.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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