McKown: Foggin debate is unsafe for students

PARKERSBURG – The teacher adviser for Parkersburg South High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance student club says the debate over the suspension of a teacher for a Facebook post has created an unsafe environment for students at the school.

Justin McKown said Thursday the suspension of teacher David Foggin for making a post which seemingly made fun of the student organization has created an atmosphere of bullying directed at GSA members and perceived gay students. Foggin was suspended Tuesday for four days due to the post, and a rally is planned this morning to demand his immediate return to the classroom.

Foggin’s supporters “are a very loud and threatening voice right now,” McKown said. “Any students who are part of the GSA are being threatened with this right now. Any students who are perceived as being homosexual are being threatened with this.”

Those wanting Foggin’s suspension overturned have been rallying on Facebook and Twitter through the #TeamFoggin tag. McKown said those who don’t join the movement feel they are singled out.

“There is a group of people who want Foggin back and then there are the rest of the kids. There is not a large community of kids out there saying ‘we want Foggin fired,’ ” McKown said. “But there is a small faction of supporters who feel that he (Foggin) may support them in bullying these kids. They seem to be bullying to prove he wasn’t bullying. I think he has a responsibility to publicly say, ‘Hey, don’t bully these kids.’ “

Foggin has not publicly responded to the online posts and declined to comment when contacted at the school Monday. A number listed for Foggin in the Wood County Schools teacher directory rang into a fax line, and a woman who answered a call to a home number listed online said no David Foggin lived at that residence.

McKown said the most shocking aspect has been the personal attacks which have been levied by members of the public and the Team Foggin camp toward him and the GSA.

“This isn’t nor has it ever been a McKown-versus-Foggin thing or a GSA-versus-Foggin thing,” he said. “The GSA nor I had anything to do with what happened here.”

Foggin’s wife Nicki Arnold Foggin recently began circulating pictures taken from McKown’s Facebook page as examples of wrongdoing by McKown. One, a picture of a man with a mustache reclined in front of a Christmas tree while petting a fake cat and wearing a garish sweater, she presented as McKown.

“Is he bullying and mocking the very children he claims to be wanting to protect by dressing in women’s clothes or does he have his own agenda he’s trying to promote through this club?” she wrote.

“It’s not even me in the picture. I got that from Awkward Family Photos and posted it in February,” McKown said. “The idea that she is insinuating that the man in the picture is crossdressing or is homosexual, I think, is further proof there is a need for a GSA in this community.”

The PSHS GSA was formed by students this year with the permission of Principal Tom Eschbacher. The PSHS GSA is based off of the national GSA and follows the same mission of education and tolerance. McKown said he agreed to act as the group’s adviser, but decisions on how the club runs and what actions it takes are decided by the students.

According to the club’s mission statement, “the Parkersburg South High School Gay-Straight Alliance is a club dedicated to creating a safe environment in school for students to support each other and learn about homophobia, transphobia and other oppressions. We aim to educate the school community about homophobia, transphobia, gender identity and sexual orientation issues, while peacefully taking a position against discrimination, harassment and violence in schools.”

McKown said the three goals of the organization are educate the community about issues facing gay, lesbian and transgender youths; provide safe zones for students who feel isolated or harassed; and to improve safety at school.

Eschbacher was out of the office and not available for comment Thursday.

Board President Tim Yeater said Thursday the incident and subsequent backlash in the community may require the school board to review policies concerning clubs in schools and employee use of social media.

“These may be things we have to take a harder look at,” he said.