Published April 15, 2010
A middle school teacher in Oregon who announced his intention "to dismantle and demolish the Tea Party" on his "Crash the Tea Party" Web site is under investigation by his state's Teacher Standards & Practices Commission.
The investigation by Oregon's teacher licensing agency comes in response to a public outcry over Jason Levin's public statements that he'll do anything short of throwing rocks to bring down the Tea Party.
Levin, the media teacher at Conestoga Middle School in Beaverton, is the leader of a group that says it wants to infiltrate and bring down the loosely organized anti-big-government Tea Party movement.
He has said he would seek to embarrass Tea Partiers by attending their rallies dressed as Adolf Hitler, carrying signs bearing racist, sexist and anti-gay epithets, and acting as offensively as possible — anything short of throwing punches.
His school district is defending his right to free speech, but it's investigating whether he used district computers to spread his political message or worked on his Web site during school hours.
In a recent interview with Talking Points Memo, Levin said of his plans, “Our goal is that whenever a Tea Partier says 'Barack Obama was not born in America,' we're going be right there next to them saying, 'Yeah, in fact he wasn't born on Earth! He's an alien!'"
In a now deleted post on his “Crash the Tea Party” Web site, Levin called on his supporters to collect the Social Security numbers — among other personal identifying information — about as many Tea Party supporters as possible at the numerous rallies scheduled to take place on Thursday – Tax Day.
“Some other thoughts are to ask people at the rally to sign a petition renouncing socialism. See just how much info you can get from these folks (name address, DOB, Social Security #). The more data we can mine from the Tea Partiers, the more mayhem we can cause with it!!!!” he wrote.
The state agency is investigating whether this is a hint at identity theft, and whether it is appropriate behavior for a public school teacher. It also will investigate charges that Levin used school computers during school hours to work on his Web site. Levin works at Conestoga Middle School's media lab and teaches 6th, 7th and 8th graders about computers and technology.
According to the school district laws regulating teacher conduct, which are posted online: “The Beavertown School District rules involving teacher use of the district’s electronic system clearly state: The district's electronic communications system shall be used for educational purposes consistent with the district's mission, priorities and beliefs. Educational purposes do not include commercial use, use for personal financial gain or political advocacy.”
The investigation will be assigned to a case agent who will compile a preliminary report that will be presented before the commission. The commission members will then decide whether to charge Levin with misconduct or dismiss the case due to insufficient evidence, said Melody Hanson, the director of professional practices.
There are numerous factors that are weighed when considering disciplinary sanctions under state law, including:
--Whether the conduct was notorious or had negative effects on the public image of the school (public image could be an issue of contention in Beavertown, which was named the “Best Place to Raise Your Kids” in Oregon by Businessweek);
--the educator’s past performance;
--whether there was damage to students, other educators or the public;
--the likelihood of a recurrence of the conduct;
-- whether there is a danger that students will imitate the teacher’s behavior.
The earliest Levin’s case could be considered would be in August, since the commission meets only four times a year.
The Beaverton School District also is conducting an internal investigation to look into Levin's use of "work time and district equipment, and any other relevant issues," Maureen Wheeler, the district's public information officer, told FoxNews.com.
On Tuesday morning, the school district sent out a district-wide “media advisory” in which it declared its support of Levin. It described the teacher as a “leader of an anti-tea party organization” and called the controversy surrounding him a matter of free speech that should not be discussed with members of the press.
“What this teacher does in his private time is his private personal business. So when he’s not in school, that’s his personal time and there’s just not a lot we can do. This is an issue of free speech,” Wheeler told FoxNews.com on Tuesday.
The school district superintendent and several school board members deferred all questions to Wheeler.