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Students Protest Bishop O’Connell Teacher Firing

by ARLnow.com April 20, 2012 at 10:01 am 9,173 38 Comments

Some 150 students took to the streets outside Bishop O’Connell High School yesterday to protest the firing of John Harrison, a beloved social studies teacher.

More than 2,600 people have joined a Facebook group called “DJO Alumni against the firing of Mr. Harrison.” In a letter posted on the Facebook group, Harrison says he was told he wasn’t going to have his contract renewed next year so that an assistant to the school’s new football coach could take his job. After students started protesting, he says, the school fired him.

ABC 7 covered the firing and the protests last night (see video, above). Bishop O’Connell officials told the station that they couldn’t discuss individual personnel matters.

  • YTK

    OConnell’s method of administration has changed drastically over the years. This is no longer a school I look up to.

  • WeiQiang

    It looks like there’s a story under the veneer. An assistant to the new football coach will become a social studies teacher? What is reported on the FB site or elsewhere about why this particular teacher would be replaced instead of, say, a religion teacher?

    • Danielle

      It probably has to do with the degree the assistant has, which is most likely not Theology.

  • ArlForester

    Al Burch had some big shoes to fill and even though there are now two people doing his job, they are still failing to do so. He is probably spinning in his grave over this.

  • Numbers Sense

    I think there is probably a difference between what the kids see and what the administrators see. Schools do not report on personnel matters to the community means that they have a file which contains evaluations that do not go public as it would violate the employees right to privacy.

    Or they could just want the new football guy to have a job.

    • Tabs

      Right. A retiring teacher from my school recently told me a lot of gossip, stuff that had been kept under wraps for a long time. Our beloved dean of students was allegedly caught drinking on the job (I mean serious flask action, not a beer at lunch). We students believed he was fired for “living in sin” with a woman he wasn’t married to. Ha. Silly.

      Please note that I am not implying that the O’Connell teacher did anything of the sort.

  • yequalsy

    The linked article quotes him as saying he’s being replaced by two younger teachers and he’s suing for age discrimination. Meanwhile I take it the Facebook letter makes the claim about the football coach’s assistant. I suppose both claims can be true but there’s clearly more to this story. Other basic details would be nice. How long has he taught at the school, etc.

  • DJO Class of 2000

    It has always and forever been the teachers and students vs the administrators.

    • ArlForester

      Not always, not in the 80’s when I went there or the 60’s when my mom did.

      • DJO Class of 2000

        Perhaps I should have been more nuanced. More like the educators vs the old boys club.

  • CW

    People who send their kids to private schools supposedly love those schools because they have the freedom to do whatever they want. Live by the sword, die by the sword. Next story.

    • DJO Class of 2000

      People who send their kids to O’Connell generally do so because they are Catholic and want a Catholic education.

      • CW

        Sure, but private schools aren’t held to the same rules as public schools. Private school supporters usually tout how public schools are bogged down by teachers unions, etc. So here’s the school exercising its flexibility as a private-sector employer. Age discrimination claims are pretty darn hard to prove in court.

        • drax

          Yep, those teachers need a union.

        • DJO Class of 2000

          Most parents choose O’Connell because it will provide a Catholic education, and not because there aren’t teacher’s unions. Your attempt to point out hypocrisy on the part of “private school supporters” doesn’t bear out because the ability to fire teachers at will is not the reason this particular sub-set of private school supporters chose private school for their children. The protests are perfectly consistent with their choice because the expectation is that the school will attempt to live up to its Catholic ideals.

          Firing an excellent teacher because the Football coach’s assistant needs a job that ends at 3 pm is not in alignment with Catholic ideals.

          I’m not trying to argue with you. I simply wanted to illuminate this nuance of the Catholic school community to differentiate it from the larger Private school universe because there are important differences between them.

          • DJO Class of 2000

            Ok, so the form took my humorous html tags and thought they were real. It’s supposed to read:

            [Begin Speculation]

            Firing an excellent teacher because the Football coach’s assistant needs a job that ends at 3 pm is not in alignment with Catholic ideals.

            [End Speculation]

    • Mike


  • George

    isn’t there a school board above the principal or something for this private school?

    • ArlForester

      They are supporting the school’s decision based on the email I got that was sent to alumni.

  • ArlingtonNative

    Well, at least the field lights are not an issue during this 🙂

  • It’s 4/20!!

    Everybody mellow out and stop harshing my buzz.

  • soarlslacker

    I attended catholic schools (not in this area) for 18 years. The only people that I ever saw influence the school administration at a catholic school were tuition paying parents. The parents are the customers here. If they raise heck, then something will change. The administration did not care what the students thought. High quality students were what was needed to boost graduation rates and college acceptance rates and get a better reputation to attract better students. I had non catholic teachers who got paid less than public school teachers (and were probably held to lower standards) who taught in catholic schools because there was no violence and no discipline problems. They felt very safe at the catholic schools, but not at the public schools.

  • Aaron

    This will no doubt turn out to be a valuable learning lesson for the DJO kids. They’ll learn that signing Facebook petitions doesn’t do squat.

  • roquer

    I think this is a religious institution so they have some leeway where other institutions might not have. On the other hand, isn’t this something that private industry also does? Take an aging person paid top-dollar and change to someone just starting out so they can pay less? In this instance, the news article said the school got two younger employees for the price of one’s removal. That might give us an idea exactly how much Mr. Harrison was making. It ain’t pretty but sometimes it does happen.

    • drax

      And everyone gets old. Even administrators.

  • BoredHouseWife

    so what was giving cancer to the teachers in the math/history wing?

    • Curious

      And the answer is ???

  • J.D.

    What a stupid non-story. Nobody writes about O’Connell in national publications to talk about a history teacher. They write about O’Connell’s football and (obviously, boys’) basketball teams. The ones that send players on to prominent FBS and major Division I programs. Players such as Kendall Marshall, North Carolina’s point guard who would have won a national championship with the Tar Heels if he didn’t get hurt during the first weekend of the Tournament.

    At some point the “teachers” need to get over themselves. O’Connell makes money because they provide a true Catholic education. They provide an outlet for people who want to play major college football and basketball, and start themselves on the way toward the pros. The “history” class is a means to an end, particularly as nobody even hires “historians” anyway.

    Let’s take a look at this “Mr. Harrison”. He says he hasn’t “encouraged” the protests, but that he hasn’t moved to quell them either because that would “go against everything I have taught them.” Who is this Harrison to teach Vatican II-style questioning on the part of these students? Particularly in these times, when we have uppity nuns thinking issues like hunger or housing matter more than the responsibility of those who perpetuated the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Church has enough problems with these nuns wasting time feeding people and changing their bedpans without worrying what is happening in the history classrooms at O’Connell.

    Harrison worked as a trial lawyer, which should give us pause as to what on Earth he is teaching these students. To think that he’s convinced some kid that he (Harrison) is the reason the kid is going to college. Uh, if you’re going to O’Connell, then you can go to college. You can afford it, or you are playing sports well enough so that you can provide in-kind payment to the college via your athletic talent. But please don’t tell me Harrison is some sort of Mr. Chips guiding your way to the ivory tower. If you’re somehow “impoverished”, you’ll be far better off with a football coach teaching you how to play while clearing the deck during the school day. Once you’re pushing for a starting spot at VT or Maryland or Carolina, you’ll understand.

    • drax

      Yep, a stupid non-story.

    • Danielle

      Jeez sour much? When did the kid ever mention finances as being an issue for college? Anyways, a family being able to afford DJO tuition is far more manageable than being able to afford a college tuition (so yes, even O’Connell students and families can’t afford college sometimes).
      I graduated from O’Connell and people either go to college or they don’t – simple as that. The teen has every right in the world to claim that Harrison is the reason he is going to college. Perhaps he swayed helped change the young student’s mind into applying to college or something similar. It could be a number of things so it’s ridiculous of you to pounce on that subject.

      Also this story isn’t about the teacher’s ego. There’s information missing in this article – it doesn’t give the reason he was fired.

      “From Mr. Harrison: As far as I know this is my and Jim Hayes stories. Prebble hired a new football coach and he hired two assistants. The two assistants needed jobs. Oceankowski was retiring, and they decided not to renew my contract so they could hire both assistants as social studies teachers. The football coach is to get Jim Hayes weight room and classes. They told the kids I was not coming back. The kids decided to meet in the quad to discuss it. However, some of the kids went to the chapel to pray when they were blocked from the courtyard. About 50 of them were in the chapel saying a rosary. Prebble and Vorbach ran them out of the chapel. About 10 came to my classroom along with some students in that class. As I was trying to figure out what was going on Vorbach came in and ordered the kids out. They did not leave. I told them to go, and they left. They fired me because I did not tell them to leave soon enough. Seriously. As a cause to fire someone this does not pass the giggle test.”

      You can’t read that and tell me that’s a legitimate reason to fire a teacher and that this whole issue is merely the teacher’s ego…

      And so what he was a lawyer? He taught not only history but practical law at O’Connell so I don’t see what your issue is with his former career. Lastly, in stating he didn’t quell the protests because it would go against what he taught, it indicates he most likely taught his students to fight for what they believe in (or something similar to that concept) – where’s the problem with that? Teacher’s are not only educators of their specified subject area but also mentors for students, particularly high school students.

  • Elmer

    J.D. Time to grow up. Not cute nor witty.
    DJO, Class of ’67

  • sunflower

    do we need a “sarcastic font”? or is jd for real?

  • CarlosDePasqual

    Luckily, there are plenty of INCREDIBLY GOOD public schools in Arlington that aren’t run by theologically-inclined idiots.

    • Elmer

      “Theologically-inclined idiots”?
      Speaks wonders for your public school open-minded tolerance and acceptance of diversity training.

  • Cath

    As a 1969 graduate I wondered why I had received those weird e-mails. Since I do not live in the area I found this interesting. Thanks for keeping us informed. Way back in those olden days we wouldn’t have had the courage to protest anything. Too afraid of the nuns.

  • James

    Unfortunately I guessed an issue like this would occur once Martin resigned. The old administration gradually began to change over the past 5 years and I saw the old O’Connell transform into the school it is today by the time I had graduated in 10. O’connell in the past 5 years was a heavy drug induced school with kids who honestly dident care about anything. From my observations the school had a very hard time containing the students from 07-10 which helped in the transition to new administration. Bottom line is O’Connell is in a new decade with a new generation of kids who know very little about what used to go on at that school. Mr. Harrisons intentions are very good and all he wanted to do was properly educate and break through to the students. The new administration is not down for that method of lax teaching, they want the information taught to either be learned or accept failure. O’Connell is a joke of a school and has been for quite sometime now and the old picture of how the school used to be is no more. Unfortunately i dont agree with a lot that O’Connell is offering now, they dont really care about the students at all. Dont send your kids here, if you want a real education for your kids at no cost then send them to one of the many amazing public schools in Northern VA or another private school that doesnt suck

    • Quoth the Raven

      Your point about how badly the school has fallen would be better made if your grammar and spelling weren’t atrocious.

      • Get Over It

        Your reply would be relevant if it weren’t so pedantic. James’ opinion is 100% accurate, I’d say. This is coming from a Class of ’10 grad who was around to experience both Martin and Vorbach.


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