Josh Barry, of Camp Hill, Penn., wants to know why the president of the local teacher’s union thinks he’s a neo-Nazi after he complained about a classroom assignment that he believed to be biased.
“I’m Jewish and my wife is half-black, half-white,” Barry told me in a telephone interview. “I am the furthest thing from a neo-Nazi.”
Last week, his daughter’s eighth grade American History class at East Pennsboro Middle School was asked to analyze a New York Times story about the recent government shutdown.
Barry, who said he is a registered independent, read the story and then read a list of questions his daughter was required to answer and he immediately determined the assignment was “grossly slanted.”
The worksheet included questions like “To what issue do House Republican leaders insist on tying the federal budget?” and “Whom do you hold most responsible for the government shutdown?”
Barry fired off letters complaining about the assignment to his daughter’s teacher as well as the school board. But a few days later, he was shocked to discover that the head of the local teacher’s union was making calls around town – asking if he was a neo-Nazi.
The story was first reported on the website Examiner.com.
“It is safe to say that I am less than pleased with your non-objective approach to education when it pertains to current political discussions in the classroom,” he wrote. “You have a duty to be objective and your information you provided my child was not only grossly slanted but it is incompetently incomplete.”
He pointed out the questions in the lesson were loaded with political ideology and “pre-loaded with incorrect premises.”
The teacher responded by explaining that the lesson was not about politics -- it was about literacy.
“The objective was not to promote any political agenda but to work on non-fiction reading skills,” the teacher wrote in an email obtained by Fox News.
Barry was not satisfied with the explanation.
“You will not indoctrinate my child,” he wrote. “If you are going to present articles with a slant to one side you are morally and ethically required to present the opposing views, to give an opportunity for the student, your captive audience, to come to their own conclusions.”
Barry also reached out to the principal, who defended the teacher’s assignment and allegedly told him The New York Times story was not slanted.
On Friday the story took a bizarre turn.
A friend of Barry’s received a telephone call that he says came from Cydnee Cohen, the president of the East Pennsboro Education Association. Barry’s friend was a mutual friend of Cohen’s.
“We’re having some problems with a parent in our school district,” Cohen allegedly told Barry’s friend. “I would like to know -- some of it seems like he’s a neo-Nazi.”
Barry’s friend, who he declined to name, sent Cohen a text message, refuting the charge.
“Just got your message,” the friend wrote. “Josh is the furthest thing from a neo-Nazi. He is JEWISH.”
Afterwards, the friend called Barry and alerted him to the neo-Nazi allegation.
Cohen did not return messages seeking comment.
Bruce Deveney, the superintendent of the school district, told me they are investigating the incident.
“A teacher that was not involved with the assignment took it upon themselves to address the issue that was made public by the parent,” Deveney said. “The teacher’s actions are not supported or sanctioned by the administration and school board of East Pennsboro Area School District.”
Deveny did not respond to questions about Cohen’s employment status in the school district.
“The district is looking further into this situation and will take appropriate actions,” he said.
Barry accused the union president of “embarking on a campaign to dig up dirt on me and to make me look like a neo-Nazi.”
“It’s a smear,” he told me. “Instead of dealing with the issue at hand in a logical, adult manner, she embarked on a campaign to smear me. That’s their union thuggery tactics.”
For the record, Barry said he is not a neo-Nazi. After he went public with Cohen’s accusation, his friend received a rather heated phone call from the union boss.
“She was swearing at her,” he said. “When my friend questioned (Cohen) about her motive - she said, ‘I’m a union officer. These are my teachers.’”
Barry said he wants the union president fired.
“Anything less than accepting her resignation or firing her is condoning her actions,” he said. “This is unacceptable.”
And he’s also got a message for the local teacher’s union: he’s not backing down.
“It’s going to be very difficult to intimidate me,” he said. “I’m not going to submit to their bullying tactics.”