An Ohio teacher tried to clarify remarks Thursday that he made to a student about his presidential aspirations as he fights to retain his job.
Gil Voigt, a science teacher at Fairfield Freshman High School, flatly denied telling a student in December that “the country doesn’t need another black president,” as the teen had claimed.
“Absolutely not,” Voigt told WLWT-TV. “I said, as the individuals were leaving the class, and I heard one of the individuals talk about wanting to be president, I said, ‘Let’s hope we don’t need another president like Obama, whether he’s black or white. We need somebody in the White House who can lead us in a different direction.’”
Voigt admitted teachers are discouraged from sharing their opinions on controversial issues, but he said his comments weren’t inappropriate because the final bell had rung and students were collecting their items to leave and placing their chairs on desktops.
“It was after school,” he said. “It was unstructured. It’s after the school day. It’s nothing more than if I was walking down the hall with somebody and we were talking about a certain issue.”
Voigt said he doesn’t know why the student would accuse him of making a racist statement, although he admits he was reprimanded in 2008 for an “inappropriate racial comment” he made to a student who was sleeping in class.
“I tried to wake him a couple of times and he didn’t wake up,” Voigt said. “I use a laser pointer on my Power Point presentations in class. I put the laser pointer on his nose for about one second, and the student that was sitting next to him said, ‘Oh, he looks like an African-American Rudolph,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, he does look like an African-American Rudolph.’ He wakes up all of a sudden; he had been bluffing. He tells his mother, brings her into class and I get a verbal warning for it.”
A second warning came last week during the school’s “spirit week.”
“This one student comes into class with colored hair and different colored shirts and trousers and so forth, and as he walked by I said, ‘Man you’re looking weird today,’” Voigt said. “He went home and told his aunt that I called him gay. There was no reference made toward that.”
But the recent accusation led to Voigt’s suspension without pay, the first step in the school’s termination process, and he’s also lost other jobs as a result.
“It’s caused me to lose my head golf (coach) position at Badin High School,” Voigt said. “It’s caused me to lose basketball games and a couple of conferences in which I refereed.”
The situation had placed him in a financial bind, Voigt said.
“My unemployment has been taken away from me because of the reason Fairfield is sending to Job and Family Services,” he said. “I would like my back pay back. I would like my job back.”
Voigt said more than two-dozen people had testified on his behalf during a closed-door employment hearing this week at the school.
He told WLWT that at least one student had backed his claim that he hoped the U.S. never had another president like Obama, “black or white.”
The 13-year veteran teacher said other students testified that he hadn’t made a racially inappropriate remark.
“I didn’t attack anybody individually,” he said. “It was an opinionated statement. I didn’t make any racial jokes. I didn’t curse. I’m fighting for clearance of my name.”
Voigt has five years left before retirement, and he said he would take his fight to court if school officials don’t rule this week in his favor.
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