By Jeff Harper
The Cullman Times
It seems only yesterday that I was fighting for my name and my right to have my earned job; to be able to make a difference in a child's life; to watch that light bulb turn on and see that smile spread across that innocent and precious face; to be able to continue to feed my family. Even after I won a wrongful termination suit and was placed in a created job that equals more than two teachers' salaries, I still feel a loss.
As I drive along the highway today, I see campaign signs of the same folks begging for mine and your vote that so callously and unjustly fired me. I see them campaigning, shaking hands, and talking to strangers as if that person is the most important person on earth. I almost envy that stranger. I remember not being given my rightful opportunity to speak to my board member, Sheila Kretzschmar; Superintendent Hank Allen; or anyone on my behalf before they made the decisions that so drastically affected my life forever. I remember being on my honeymoon with my brand new bride and receiving the phone call from The Cullman Times requesting my comment on being terminated. I hadn't been told. I remember arriving home and retrieving the newspaper from the box and seeing "Harper Fired" in bold print on the front page. Even though it is an established policy to inform the individual of termination before publishing in the newspaper, I did not receive notification from the Board Of Education until five days later in a letter that I was actually fired. Again, no one would look me in the eye and tell me I was terminated. As I drive along, I see more signs. I think of all the people that have gone through the trauma of losing jobs because of mismanagement by politicians in positions that we elected. Did we not choose wisely, or did they misrepresent themselves and fool us? Did we not pray and ask for guidance in this ultimately important decision? I think of our most precious and loved possessions, our children. God only lets us borrow them for a little while. He expects and demands that we take care of them. We must deliberate and pray over our vote.
I arrive home and retrieve my mail from the mailbox — another high pressure campaign request. AEA has selected the candidate for me to vote for. One of the most powerful political action committees in the state has decided that they know best. I guess I am not intelligent enough to listen, pray, and decide. Who did they give money to this time? AEA certainly didn't help me when I needed help. I guess I am only one vote and not worth much.
As I park my car and walk to an empty house, no longer married, I think of all the people that their marriage didn't survive some sort of trauma. I remember being told that if I didn't settle my suit, they would embarrass my family. I remember the look on my wife's face when she was needlessly and innocently drug through the mud. I remember her crying and asking, "why me?" I remember the tears streaming down my nine-year-old daughter's face when I told her that she was forced by the superintendent to change schools, to leave her friends, her home. I remember the vile and vulgar things that were said about her in court and printed in the newspaper. I remember knowing that West Point Elementary School passed out newspapers on the day it was printed and asking them to please help me. They did and I thank them so much! I remember trying to explain to my daughter why they targeted her.
Sadly, she remembers. I remember — will you?
‰ Jeff Harper works for the Cullman County Board of Education.