PORTLAND, Ore. – Brett Bigham became Oregon’s first openly gay Teacher of the Year for 2014.
He was also the first Teacher of the Year outside of the K-12 system, and the first person to also win the Oregon Education Association’s 2015 Teacher of the Year award at the same time.
Now, Bigham may be the first unemployed Teacher of the Year, the Portland Tribune reports.
“Our hope was that after he concluded his 2014 Teacher of the Year duties that he would reengage and focus in the classroom for the 2014-15 school year,” Laura Conroy, spokeswoman for the Multnomah Education Service District, told the news site.
District officials contend that Bigham took two months worth of paid leave to speak at conferences and attend to other Teacher of the Year duties, and “excessive time away and distraction during class time” became an ongoing problem.
Bigham was a life skills educator for 18- to 21-year-old students and taught in the district’s transition program. He organized a prom for special needs students and was noted for other exemplary work, OregonLive.com reports.
Over the last year, Bigham attended more than 200 events, using his platform as teacher of the year to promote gay rights and other issues like bullying and suicide prevention. He was also recognized by the president last May. Bigham told OregonLive he attended many events on his own time, and disputed the district’s calculation of his leave.
Bigham in November filed a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries alleging district officials imposed a gag order preventing him from discussing his gayness or other issues without prior approval. The complaint is one of two Bigham filed with the Bureau of Labor. He filed two others with the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission with similar allegations of dubious discriminatory behavior by school officials.
In January, superintendent Barbara Jorgensen sent Bigham a letter revoking future leave time to “attend or speak at conferences related to teacher of the year or similar events,” citing his absences as “detrimental” to his work, OregonLive reports.
The next month Bigham made plans to attend the National Education Association Foundation awards gala in Washington, D.C. to accept an award, and $650 for the school district. District officials rejected his request, and that’s when the Oregon Education Association stepped in.
“Bigham said … that the Oregon Education Association had located a clause in his contract stating he was allowed leave time if acting as a union representative, which forced the district to approve his trip,” OregonLive reports.
The school district fired Bigham because officials contend he refused mediation. Bigham said his termination is “a complete load of crock” and alleges the district didn’t follow the proper procedures, the Tribune reports.
Bigham thinks he lost his job because he refused to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
“I believe this is more bullying and harassment because I refuse to sign their nondisclosure agreement,” he told the news site.
Multnomah district spokeswoman Conroy said Bigham’s termination “was a difficult decision.”
“It’s not what we hoped for,” the told the Tribune. “Brett is a great teacher.”