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February 13, 2007 > Teacher still banned

Teacher still banned

By Steve Warga

When TCV interviewed Newark High Principal Bill Morones for our January 23 story "Educational Priorities," he denied having banned retired English Department Chairman Jeff Hallford from the campus. Morones insisted the entire matter was nothing more than a concern over incomplete paperwork. However, Morones' most recent, and still-delayed, actions tell a different story and he now refuses to comment further on the record.

Immediately after our January 23 edition hit the streets, Morones convened a meeting with several English teachers, including the complainant. Thereafter, he met with Advanced Placement English Teacher Christy Hallford, Jeff's wife and successor. Joining Christy and Morones was Jacob Goldsmith, a fellow teacher and also the school's union representative for the National Teachers Association. Goldsmith was there in his union capacity at Christy's request and in support of her plans to file a formal grievance with the school for hindering her contractual rights to academic freedom.

According to Christy, Morones described the complaining teacher as "wringing her hands, shaking and quivering" with distress at the thought of Jeff Hallford's presence on the campus - anywhere on the campus! During his meeting with Christy, Morones actually ordered her to refrain from discussing the matter anywhere on the school grounds. Of course, he has no such authority to censure teacher conversations; as Christy wryly observed. "I'm not in the military and he's not my commanding officer." She also described visible reactions from the board of trustees when she spoke during the open comments period at their February 6 meeting. "I told them about the order and all these eyes got wide! They hadn't heard about that yet."

Not once since Hallford was first banned last December 19 has any individual offered a rational for the banning. Morones not only refuses to describe the basis of the teacher's alleged distress, he denies any knowledge of its origins. When Christy and Goldsmith asked specifically, Morones did not retreat behind a "no comment" answer. He flatly stated he did not know what triggered the complaint against Hallford. (Morones did refuse comment, though, when asked a similar question by TCV.)

Despite his expressed ignorance of a valid basis for the complaint, Morones proceeded to discuss various solutions to accommodate both sides. Of many options offered, Morones suggested Christy might arrange to take the entire class to an off-campus site when she wanted her husband as a guest lecturer; in effect, a single-period field trip. Or, the principal thought perhaps Christy and Goldsmith could swap classrooms for Hallford lectures, since that would put him on the opposite corner of the campus. Why is Morones willing to even consider such extraordinary measures, disrupting the learning environment of dozens of students, all because one teacher claims "discomfort" with Jeff Hallford?

Understandably, Hallford and his wife have grown increasingly concerned with the motives behind this attack on his character and reputation. Questions have been raised from a number of sources as to whether or not Hallford might be guilty of criminal misconduct. Christy and her union rep asked Morones if Jeff stood accused of any sort of physical, emotional or psychological misconduct. Morones claimed he knew of no specific allegations.

Newark Unified School District Superintendent Dr. John Bernard did not return TCV's call seeking comment on the Hallford situation.

Ray Rodriguez, president of the NUSD Board of Trustees, was more forthcoming after first stressing that personnel matters were confidential so he could not comment on specifics. Rodriguez, a long-time trustee, was impressed by the large turnout of students and parents voicing support for Hallford at the past two board meetings. He also expressed concern that this matter is "moving too slowly" toward a resolution.

When asked directly if he was aware of any misconduct charges against Hallford, Rodriguez was succinct, "No! This is not an issue of misconduct. Mr. Hallford was an excellent employee of ours. I value him not only as a former employee, but also personally as I've known him for awhile."

Nearly two months have passed since Jeff Hallford, an award-winning teacher, was banned from the Newark High School campus by a principal who admits he has no idea why anyone would be "uncomfortable" with Hallford's presence. Board President Rodriguez is right to question why this matter remains unresolved.

When first contacted by TCV, Jeff Hallford expressed, in characteristically intelligent and reserved tones, some measure of indignation at his treatment by Morones. He wondered aloud about receiving an apology. Two months later, he's simply relieved to hear any district official deny charges of misconduct. Beyond this, both Hallfords would settle for any reasonable accommodations that would return Jeff's considerable talents and expertise to the many students in AP English so willingly and vocally supporting this.

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