Is an Enloe High School student facing repercussions for having questioned the lack of diversity within the classes on campus?
As noted in today's article, Wake County school officials say they're investigating allegations that Enloe social studies teacher Joseph Hoffman told his classes on Thursday that he was considering rescinding the college recommendation letters for senior Jay Zhang.
The reason Hoffman was allegedly upset was over this letter to the editor in Thursday's N&O in which Zhang talked about "the glaring academic and cultural divide between the magnet and non-magnet students."
Michael Evans, Wake's chief communications officer, said Superintendent Tony Tata became immediately concerned when he first learned about the allegations on Friday. Evans said an investigation has been launched.
"The superintendent feels very strongly about being able to exercise the right to free speech," Evans said.
Hoffman, who declined comment Monday, is still teaching. Sometimes teachers are suspended with pay during investigations.
Several students described what happened during Hoffman's various classes on Thursday. But most declined to be identified, fearing retribution.
One student who stepped forward is Maggie Lee, a junior in Hoffman's AP U.S. History class. She said that Hoffman was visibly upset when the class opened and asked students if they had read Zhang's letter to the editor.
In the process of pulling out a printout of the letter, Lee said Hoffman talked about how he had written letters for Zhang, whom he didn't mention by name. He took out a sheet and rattled off the colleges he had written letters of recommendation to, saying he was considering rescinding them because Zhang wasn't the student he thought he was.
After reading the letter, Lee said Hoffman asked the class if they felt Zhang's statements were true. Lee said that Hoffman later singled out the three black students in the class to ask them to speak out about their thoughts on the letter.
Lee and Zhang said that friends in Hoffman's other classes also told them that he made similar remarks about the letter and the possibility of rescinding the college recommendation letters.
Lee and her mother, Wake CARES co-founder Patrice Lee, said Hoffman isn't the only magnet teacher who has shared their opinions about the diversity policy in class. But Maggie Lee said Hoffman has been one of the most blatant.
Maggie Lee said that during the time between periods, Hoffman showed students "The Colbert Report" segment that skewered Wake over eliminating the diversity policy. Once class began, she said that Hoffman took up part of the time taking questions from students about the piece.
Maggie Lee said that Hoffman also told the class that he was working in his free time to find out which people were supporting members of the school board majority. She said he told the class he might release the results of his investigation in case people wanted to boycott those businesses. Lee said he added that students should act on what they find in their own free time.
“It’s not okay for him to tell us what’s right and what’s wrong,” said Lee, a junior. “When it’s a controversial topic, give us the facts and let us decide.”
Patrice Lee said that Hoffman is a good teacher who should stay at Enloe. But she said that he should have to apologize for what happened Thursday.
As for Zhang, he said he faced an immediate backlash on Thursday from students and teachers. Later that day, he sent an apology letter that he posted on his Facebook page and that he e-mailed to teachers. You can find the apology letter as a comment he posted to the online version of his original letter to the editor.
Zhang admits he's worried that Hoffman might rescind his recommendation letters. But Zhang is also quick to say how much he admires Hoffman as a teacher and that he can understand why his letter to the editor offended him.
Since Zhang's original letter ran, the Enloe community has fired back to defend the school. This letter to the editor from Enloe student Dhruv Jain ran on Saturday along with this letter to the editor from Enloe teacher Christopher Lyerly.