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An upstate New York appellate panel on Thursday affirmed administrative sanctions imposed on a tenured English teacher who persisted in teaching “phallogocentrism” — a feminist literary theory centering on phallic symbolism — to his 11th grade honors class despite warnings to tone down his use of sexual imagery. The Appellate Division, 3rd Department, said in Matter of Bernstein and Norwich City School, 88567, that a balancing of the teacher’s academic freedom and the school’s interest in promoting community values weighs against the educator. The appeals court unanimously found no merit in the teacher’s “contention that his academic freedom must be protected because the information that he was presenting has material value,” and observed that the instructor had been previously warned and was “aware that his prior choice of materials offended community values” in the rural district southeast of Syracuse. Matter of Bernstein involved Richard C. Bernstein, a teacher at Norwich High School who was charged in May 1998 with conduct unbecoming a teacher, insubordination, neglect of duty and incompetence for using inappropriate verbiage in his lessons. At a hearing, four students testified that Bernstein had used the words “penis” and “clitoris” to explain a literary technique, which the teacher admitted. Additionally, the principal testified that Bernstein had previously been warned about his emphasis on sexual imagery. He said the teacher, who was in charge of the school’s literary magazine, had authorized distribution of an issue in which a student wrote an article entitled “Slut” and described a girl’s sexual encounter. As a result of the literary magazine incident, Bernstein was brought up on disciplinary charges. Under a settlement, the teacher agreed to use only reading materials consistent with district policy, to refrain from using controversial materials that were not first reviewed by the principal and to carefully monitor the content of his students’ projects that were to be distributed throughout the school or among the general public. Bernstein insisted that he did not violate the settlement agreement by introducing the theory of phallogocentrism. One teacher testifying on his behalf said that Bernstein’s use of controversial terms was not age inappropriate. Another said that while she, too, taught phallogocentrism, she did not find it necessary to use sexually explicit terms. The hearing officer sustained the charges of unbecoming conduct and insubordination, and imposed a $3,000 fine and a letter of reprimand. Supreme Court Justice Kevin M. Dowd of Chenango County confirmed the determination but found that it was error to impose both a fine and a reprimand, and ordered a rehearing solely on the issue of penalty. In turn, at the Appellate Division, Bernstein challenged only the substantive charges that were sustained. The Appellate Division affirmed Thursday in an opinion by Justice Karen K. Peters. Also on the panel were Justices D. Bruce Crew III, Carl J. Mugglin, Robert S. Rose and John A. Lahtinen. Appearing were Paul D. Clayton of the National Education Association in Albany for Bernstein, and Craig M. Atlas of Ferrara, Fiorenza, Larrison, Barrett & Reitz in East Syracuse for the school district.

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