Much ado about nothing in my opinion...
By Dan Lavoie
A veteran Oak Forest High School teacher has received a written reprimand for telling students last week they could earn extra credit if they took part in a "Get Naked Day" in his classroom.
The comments were an unfortunate, tongue-in-cheek effort by English teacher Bob Burt to get his students interested in an upcoming lesson, Bremen High School District 228 Supt. Richard Mitchell said.
Burt never intended for the students in a senior writing class to get naked but merely wanted them to wear loose-fitting pants and flip-flops as part of a lesson based around the 1989 movie "My Left Foot," Mitchell said.
However, he said Burt did not make it clear to the students that his reference to "Get Naked Day" was a joke when he announced it April 6.
At least three boys told their parents that night about Get Naked Day. The parents complained to school officials, saying such sexually suggestive talk had no place in a classroom.
Mitchell said an internal investigation found that Burt proposed Get Naked Day as a way to get students in the class to wear loose-fitting clothes and shoes that would be easy to take off and put back on.
Burt planned to have his students paint and write with their toes, like the artist profiled in "My Left Foot," and wanted to make sure that their shoes could easily be removed and pants pulled up to avoid getting dirty, Mitchell said.
Burt could not be reached by phone, but in a lengthy e-mail to the Daily Southtown said he has previously used the phrase "Get Naked Day" to grab the interest of second-semester seniors. In past years, students understood that it was a joke, he said.
"As for this year," he wrote, "a few students thought differently about what was to happen ... than the majority of this semester's students and those in the past did. I don't know why."
Burt, who plans to retire at the end of the 2005-06 school year, also coaches boys' track and cross country. He has taught at the school since 1973 after teaching eight years at Brother Rice High School in Chicago.
Mitchell said he was "honked" to hear that Burt had used such a sexually suggestive motivational tool in his class but believed that the reprimand was punishment enough. He said Burt has no record of inappropriate conduct.
"Is (Get Naked Day) an appropriate term? Was it wise to use? Probably not," Mitchell said. "But in terms of suspending somebody for it, it didn't rise to that level."
Senior Tom McCullagh, one of the students who complained about Burt's remarks, said Burt told the class that "he knows our hormones are raging and we want to see each other naked anyway."
Burt also said he would put paper over the windows so no one could see in and that Get Naked Day would be the class' secret, McCullagh said.
In his e-mail, Burt says he usually gives an "over-the-top" description of Get Naked Day so kids know that it's a joke. He did not respond to follow-up questions from the Southtown.
Nan Stein, a researcher at Wellesley College's Center for Research on Women and an expert in sexual harassment in schools, said it seemed that Burt crossed a line with Get Naked Day but that a reprimand should suffice.
"It seems to me the guy lacks a little bit of subtlety," she said. "The guy was talking in shorthand. He should have really explained it. But to call it 'Get Naked Day,' that doesn't even relate (to the lesson)."
Burt has made sexually suggestive comments before in the class, said McCullagh, who acknowledged that he was performing poorly in the course.
"Everything we did (in class) basically involved sex or sexual connotations," McCullagh said. "He does it in every class. The 'Get Naked Day' was the final straw."
Mitchell said some other students in the class, interviewed during District 228's investigation, made a similar accusation but nothing could be substantiated.
McCullagh's mother, Vicky Runcio, doesn't think the reprimand is enough.
"This guy doesn't need to be teaching kids," she said. "This is absolutely ridiculous."
Runcio has at least one ally on the District 228 school board.
"For (Burt) to say that, Get Naked, it is very, very inappropriate," board member Verla Clevenger said. "This punishment is not enough."
Mitchell said Burt will not face any further discipline for the incident, although he may be subject to more oversight from his supervisors. The students who complained have transferred out of Burt's class for the remainder of the year.