Aurora, CO – An Aurora high school teacher who said he was fired because he wouldn’t let students use the n-word during meetings of the Black Student Alliance has gotten his job back plus a $75,000 settlement.
Black studies teacher Jay Bennish was placed on paid administrative leave from Overland High School by the Cherry Creek School District in August of 2019, KDVR reported.
The school district accused Bennish of using inappropriate, offensive, and racist language that created an environment in which students did not feel safe and free to learn.
Bennish told KDVR that he became a target after two black female students approached him for permission to use the n-word and the b-word at club events.
“No, it would violate district policy,” the teacher told them.
The school sent a letter home to parents that said the allegations included “whether Mr. Bennish used the ‘N word’ in his classroom and acted appropriately as the adult sponsor of the Black Student Alliance,” KDVR reported.
Bennish said in January that he was surprised by the school district’s actions.
“I can’t imagine that the principal and the district would take the position that I should’ve said yes to these students and encouraged that type of language to be used at a school setting,” the teacher told KDVR.
Civil rights attorney David Lane, who represented Bennish, said the false accusation was all part of bigger scheme to get rid of his client who had been teaching at Overland High School for 20 years.
“The principal had a game plan to get Jay out of Black Studies and replace him with an African-American teacher,” Lane explained.
The Cherry Creek School District and Bennish settled his claim on July 20 and entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that paid the teacher $75,000 and reinstated him to any other high school in the district except Overland, KDVR reported.
The MOU included a non-disparagement agreement that prohibited Bennish and the principal of Overland High School from saying anything negative about each other for five years or until after Bennish had left the district, KDVR reported.
Despite that, the teacher’s attorney said the settlement was total vindication for his client, KDVR reported.
“He’s getting $75,000 out of the district and being put back in the classroom,” Lane pointed out. “They don’t give racists $75,000. They don’t put racists back in the classroom.”
But Cherry Creek Schools Superintendent Scott Siegfried sent a statement to KDVR that said the school district hadn’t fired Bennish because it didn’t want to traumatize the students involved and implied the teacher was being punished.
“As I considered the possibility of students having to be re-victimized in a dismissal hearing with Jay Bennish, I decided that I did not want to put children in that position,” Siegfried wrote.
Then he said he wouldn’t let the teacher continue teaching in his chosen field, KDVR reported.
“With this draft settlement agreement, the district gets to determine future teaching assignments,” the superintendent insisted. “As such, Mr. Bennish will not teach Advanced Placement or Black Studies classes and he will not return to Overland High School.”
Bennish’s attorney was furious about Siegfried’s statement.
“This is outrageous,” Lane said. “The ink on this Memo of Understanding isn’t even dry and the superintendent is already violating it. If it’s a full-on war they want, it’s a full-on war they’ll get.”
“He should be able to teach AP and Black Studies again because that is what the district promised,” he added.
A spokeswoman for Cherry Creek School District told KDVR the final settlement with Bennish had not yet been signed, and that the district has the authority to determine what subjects teachers are assigned.
Lane expressed derision at that response.
“If they are backtracking on a legally enforceable document they are buying into a lawsuit,” the attorney warned.