CHICAGO – Eisenhower High School driver’s education teacher Vince Ziebarth is out of a job after a parent complained he wouldn’t let her son ride in his vehicle after the boy refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Ziebarth said he told 15-year-old Shemar Cooper he would have to take lessons from one of the school’s six other driver’s education teachers if he refused to honor the American flag and the soldiers who died to protect their freedoms, CBS Chicago reports.
The two seemed to have an understanding, Ziebarth said, but he was later fired from the district where’s he worked for the last eight years after Cooper’s mother, Kelly Porter, complained to school administrators.
“I had a one-on-one conversation with him that, due to his actions to sit for the pledge, I would no longer take him in my car,” Ziebarth said. “All I told him is that, based on his actions, he has a choice with his actions. I was exercising my right to make a choice as well.”
“I told him I stand to honor the sacrifice and bravery of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. It doesn’t mean America is perfect, or that we agree with everything that’s going on,” Ziebarth told the Chicago Tribune, adding that his grandfather and uncle served in the Armed Forces.
“We had an understanding. He was making a choice, and I was making a choice. His name never appeared on my sign-up sheet again, so I thought it was over,” he said.
Ziebarth contends the two “joked” about the situation, but “Shemar was absolutely pushing the issue.”
And it wasn’t the first time the sophomore’s defiance caused a rift with his teachers.
In September, Cooper got into an altercation with his Spanish teacher when he refused to stand for the pledge and proudly pronounced that “America sucks.” Porter contends she had her son apologize for the comment, but pressed school officials to take action against the Spanish teacher, who allegedly attempted to force Cooper to stand and reprimanded him in a hallway when he refused.
That teacher was sentenced to a one-day suspension over the incident, according to the Tribune.
“He does not stand because Shemar does not believe in America,” Porter told NBC Chicago. “He says America is a very racist country, there is no freedom or love for black people.”
Ziebarth said he did not hear from Cooper for two weeks before he was called into the principal’s office March 15 and fired without explanation.
“I was given no options. Had the principal told me I had to allow Shemar in my car, I would have,” he said.
Ziebarth contends he was treated unfairly considering his colleague was only suspended for a day for the same issue.
“The punishment does not fit the crime,” he said.
Porter alleges her son’s Spanish teacher should have been fired, as well, and Ziebarth should have learned from the mistake.
“Did he not learn from the incident that occurred in September? Why did he think he’s invincible, that he can harass my son? He got what he deserved,” Porter told CBS Chicago. “You know, they had to go through this humiliation, being embarrassed, being put on the news. The teachers should have learned their lessons then, you know? Don’t violate children’s rights.”
Porter is now complaining that other students are harassing her son.
“One of the kids actually stood up in the classroom and yelled at Shemar ‘You got Mr. Z fired!’ and he and my son got into a big argument,” she said. “So I’m just hoping it doesn’t escalate any further.”
Students at the school, meanwhile, are hoping to “Get Mr. Z back at Ike,” according to a Change.org petition that’s garnered more than 750 signatures since it was posted last week.
“Mr. Z is an amazing teacher and should be respected enough to where the students should know to at least stand for the pledge, like it’s less than a minute of standing,” Louis Gamboa posted in the petition comments. “He didn’t deserve to be fired, he’s the best driver’s ed teacher out of them all.”