National Education Association (NEA) Summary of the Case-
Jeanne Eckmann studied to be a nun before becoming a teacher. She became pregnant after a rape while returning from a religious retreat. She informed her superintendent and said “I am a devout Catholic and won’t consider an abortion.” She was told to keep quiet and took a leave of absence. While on leave, she was told she should resign because she was immoral. She refused and was dismissed. The dismissal letter said, “Your conduct in becoming pregnant outside the state of marriage has lessened your ability to teach.” The Illinois Education Association/NEA represented her at a hearing where the hearing officer said it was unconstitutional to fire a teacher for having a child out of wedlock. Eckmann also sued the school district for violating her rights. The judge ruled in her favor, stating, “If the right to privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into the decision whether to bear a child.” With the help of the NEA, Ms. Eckmann was reinstated and won $750,000 in damages." Source: www.isea.org/assets/document/NEA-Track-record.pdf
By the records and my memories, I think Jeanne Eckmann was likely hired not just for her qualifications as an educator. I think the small group choosing to hire her did so - at least in part - because of her well-established 'pro-life experience' and her 'religious' education.
I wonder how those individuals felt once she claimed the right to privacy afforded in Roe V. Wade to which to base her lawsuit against us all on.
The law that she had been a 'proponent' of - according to her history - ended up being used as the basis to protect her from losing her job. The intentions of those administrators seeking to push public education in one 'moral' direction for our public school has had far reaching effects on public school policy and administration.
Their decision was disastrous for me and my family.
'Morality' should NEVER have been a factor. Not in her hiring, not in her teaching, not in her firing.
Her employment by them in a position of authority over us actually harmed many children. It really has been very difficult to resolve the 'good' intent of their decisions with the outcomes. This experience has made me truly understand what is meant by the phrase 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions.'
Her lawsuit actually strengthened Roe V. Wade.
Surely this outcome could have not been forseen...and it is these unintended consequences that cause me to believe that the far too ambiguous and ever-changing guidelines of 'morality' have NO place in public schools.
Her case has helped serve to protect a woman's right to choose...in this case, TO bear a child. Without Roe v. Wade, she might have lost her job based upon the 'immorality' of becoming pregnant while unmarried...a charge no Mom should be charged with for having a baby.
I support the NEA's reasoning and cannot fault them for NOT allowing her firing for being a single Mom. Were this to come up today, I'd be on her side, were this case solely about an attack on a woman's right to privacy.
I find it difficult to try to accept this. It was traumatic to go through being on the witness stand and having my family be enmeshed in this entire process. ...and after, when the court dismissed our testimony as 'not credible,' it caused me to forever lose faith in our justice system and trust in administration systems. To find that as an adult with more information I am relieved we 'lost' this feels like a betrayal of my family and my child self. But that is where this journey has taken me.
But her firing was NOT 'just' about being a single Mom. Not to me, not to my family, not to my classmates. The legal case was irrelevent my day to day experiences in that classroom.
I hope that a case like this would NEVER happen again!
As to her pregnancy, however that happened....I really hope she wasn't raped. NOBODY deserves that. NOBODY. It's none of my business. A pregnancy is between a Mother and her baby.
It's hard to say where this case will end up in history, as archives are taken off of paper, microfiche and placed into databases by hand. The 'Facts' as they were reported then are already changing.
Had she received paid leave, and counseling, perhaps she could have enjoyed her pregnancy, enjoyed being home with her son, and she - and all of us - would have been MUCH better off.
It seems the school district lawyer inserted a charge of immorality into the letter of reprimand. This seems to me to have been the basis for the lawsuit. I may be misunderstanding the events of this case, but the politics of it do not matter to the child in me.
Motives are meaningless when the effects are traumatic.
The other charges became of little importance once the school district lawyer opened up the 'immorality' claim....a mistake that school boards would be well to heed.
Truly, I think her misuse of her power and authority was a direct consequence of the disastrous overlay of religious/morality- based hiring/personnel decisions. Had that been left out - in her hiring, in evaluating her, in holding her accountable - I really doubt this would have gone down the way it did.
Judgments about morality do not belong in education.
I wonder what our education might have been - and my life - if they had instead stuck with hiring solely on good credentials and experience. No matter what the 'position'....this case has made me believe it's just not a good idea to base hiring decisions based upon someone's idea of a 'moral education.' A person's stated 'morals' are too subjective, easy to manufacture, and not at all a reliable predictor of future behavior.
I believe it should NEVER be allowed in a public school.
The bell is held up suspended by the barbed wire, representing the rural nature and values of our school administration of that time. The red wire is a reminder of the damage from unintended consequences their administrative policy, regulation, oversight, and accountability caused.
There is a small pencil button tied to a the thorny branch in front, with the words 'all children can learn' stamped in them...I guess when we see these sayings around, we always just assume learning means 'good things.'
Because of this experience, I believe in regulation and oversight...because we should be able to CHECK and RECHECK that children are valued, safe, and truly learning the lessons that will teach them to be healthy, happy, thoughtful, participating citizens. Both at home and in school.
As I worked through my journey on this piece, the bell in particular brought forward the previously unexpressed feelings of;
Some of my classmates have expressed feeling much of the same.
Our entire community was affected by this. Many still cannot speak of it.
This case has likely affected ALL our children's education in some way.
I do have some ongoing anger that, even so many decades have passed, cases like this still happen to children today.
The broken bricks I used as the base for the rest of my piece....is a reminder that building an education on a broken foundation is an injustice to our children and our society.
This is sadly not just a metaphor right now...it is playing out in the media today. It angers me that education is being attacked....and it is very painful to see our country allowing this to create greatly stressful public school environments which are actively harming our teachers, our children, our nation.
When I hear politicians, pundits, bureaucrats (or anyone) demeaning, devaluing, and undermining the importance of good, supported, healthy teachers, good educational funding, and valid, healthy educational environments - I am once again reminded of the feelings I had being in that classroom.
Now, I believe NO good comes to a society in which its' children are subjected to ineffective, unsupported, and in some cases, downright abusive, neglectful school environments.
Good policy and administration are NOT ENOUGH. It takes good TEACHERS....well-educated, psychologically healthy, working in a supportive environment where they can focus on educating and helping children and each other. We had several wonderful, caring, highly competent teachers who didn't have enough support to create a 'safety net in the school'....where it NEEDS TO BE.
Some of my journey is in sharing the long term consequences that I've experienced when this didn't happen.
I support teachers.
I support public education.
Our children are precious and deserve protection. Protection costs money....but it's far less costly in the long run than just ONE instance of trauma in the classroom.