Teachers suspended for anti-US remarks

28th September 2001 at 01:00
GERMANY

Three teachers in the east German state of Saxony were suspended and disciplined in the wake of the terrorist attacks in America for suggesting during class discussions that the United States had had its come-uppance.

Petra Seedorf, a history teacher at Lessing grammar school in the town of Hohenstein-Ernsttal, was suspended for telling a class of 17-year-olds the day after thousands of people were killed at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that "at last the USA has received a rap on the knuckles. Why do they interfere everywhere?"

A primary school teacher in the town of Radebeul was suspended and then moved to another school after a hastily-convened disciplinary hearing because she had suggested to her class of eight-year-olds that the attacks were in retribution for the American bombing of Dresden, the capital of Saxony, in 1945 and Hiroshima.

The authorities are still considering if "other disciplinary measures are necessary", a spokesman for the schools authority said.

A third teacher who suggested the US was in the wrong was allowed to continue working only after an official warning that she could be fired if she repeated such sentiments.

Officials from the schools inspectorate would be assigned to sit in on her classes, the authorities said.

All three were said to have contravened laws that teachers must remain neutral politically and must uphold the constitution. "Under our laws, it is forbidden for teachers to support violence," said Bela Belafi, a spokesman for the Dresden schools authority.

However, many callers to radio phone-in programmes accused the authorities of over-reacting, and behaving as if "this were still East Germany" where opinions could not be freely expressed. Saxony is in the former east.

"Anything that is said in front of a class is a publicly-expressed view and cannot be seen as a private view, so it is not a question of clamping down on freedom of expression," said Inge Kunze, spokeswoman for the Chemnitz authority, which ruled on the Petra Seedorf case.

The teachers' union, GEW, warned that teachers had been unnerved by the authorities' hard-line stance.

Teachers now say privately that they feel inhibited in case they inadvertently express "politically incorrect" views in class.

The three teachers were suspended after parents complained to the schools inspectorate - perhaps an indication of the emotional reaction in Germany to the terrorist attacks, but others say it is a throw-back to the "informer" mentality of communist days. The speed with which teachers were suspended by the authorities shocked many.

In a separate case elsewhere in Germany, it took eight years for action to be taken against a teacher for expressing illegal neo-Nazi views in class.

The authorities say the cases indicate that there may be a greater need for political education among teachers in the former east.

The teachers, who had more than 10 years experience each, had been expressing dogma propagated for years under the old East German regime which saw America and the West as aggressive imperialists.

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