PARKERSBURG - Hundreds of supporters rallied in front of Parkersburg South High School on Friday, calling for a suspended teacher to return to the classroom.
About 200 students and adults lined up along Blizzard Drive, holding signs supporting David Foggin, a science teacher who was suspended Tuesday for remarks he made online about a student group.
In a post last week, Foggin appeared to make fun of the Gay-Straight Alliance club, comparing the group to deer poaching and illegal street racing and saying it opened the door to similar groups, such as drunk-sober students.
Students and adults gathered Friday morning in front of Parkersburg South High School as a show of support for South teacher David Foggin who was suspended after posting on Facebook and seemingly making fun of a school club which supported gay students. (Photo by Michael Erb)
A group of Parkersburg South High School students stand on the back of a truck in front of the school Friday holding “Team Foggin” signs in support of suspended teacher David Foggin. (Photo by Michael Erb)
The PSHS GSA is a group of about 20-25 students, both gay and straight, who gather to show support for one another and to promote understanding and school safety for students of all sexual orientations.
The Facebook post caused a controversy online with hundreds of responses either expressing support or calling for action against the teacher. The post also caused a backlash against the GSA as some questioned whether the group should be allowed at the high school.
Foggin was suspended for four days and the matter will go before the Wood County Board of Education in the near future for consideration.
Sandra Walker, a vocal proponent of Foggin, organized and attended Friday's rally.
"Mr. Foggin should be allowed to go on his private Facebook page and have the freedom of speech that men fought and died for," Walker said. "God gave us the right to take a stand on our beliefs. Christ died to give us the right to free speech."
Walker said Foggin's post and subsequent suspension have brought up issues of free speech, religion and whether a club like the Gay-Straight Alliance should be in schools. Walker dismissed rumors of GSA students being targeted for harassment and bullying by Foggin supporters.
"South has had bullying for years. The club members are not the only ones who have been singled out for bullying. When they set up the club they singled themselves out for bullying," she said.
Walker added Friday's rally, a non-violent event allowing students and adults to publicly voice their opinions and concerns, should be an example to students of how to conduct themselves. She also said too many people have claimed Foggin's post and people's subsequent support of the teacher to be offensive.
"If people are offended, they need to know it says in the end of times (in the Bible), 'then many shall be offended,'" Walker said.
Seventy-five-year-old Arlie Keffer also attended Friday's rally.
"I've seen a lot in my days, but I've never seen nothing that hurts me as bad as this," he said, referring to Foggin's suspension and the controversy surrounding the online post. "That teacher has just as much right to say what he wants to as anyone else. Some people can say stuff and some people can't. I don't have to agree with you, but I ought to be able to say what I want to."
Keffer added he disagreed with the school administration's decision to allow the GSA at South.
"God says (homosexuality) is an abomination, and I go on what God says," he said.
A good portion of the rally crowd was comprised of South students who held up signs of support for their teacher. Several students said they believed Foggin's right to free speech had been infringed and he should not have been punished for what they see as an innocuous joke.
Several students also said they had not seen any kind of bullying or retaliation against students who disagreed with Foggin and his supporters.
A small group of about 10 students stood a short distance away from the rally as a counter protest. The students, several of whom said they were gay, said they believed Foggin's post was wrong and people's support of the teacher was misguided.
At least one student said she has been the target of bullying, shouted slurs and intimidation, by Foggin's supporters because she is gay and because she is a member of the GSA.
District officials said those attending the rally were well behaved and stayed on city property. The school's Prevention Resource Officer and Wood County Schools director of security, as well as several central office administrators, monitored the crowd, and no issues were reported.
Principal Tom Eschbacher declined to comment on the rally.