Brownshirts in Barre, Vermont

Jay Moore pieinsky at
Mon May 5 16:34:27 MDT 2003

Cop takes 'midnight photos' of teacher's classroom
May 5, 2003

By David Delcore

BARRE - John Mott and Tom Treece have at least one thing in common. Make
that two.

Both men think they have been unfairly accused and, if you believe their
critics, both have had a chilling impact on students at Spaulding High

Mott is the Barre Town police officer who admits he spent part of an early
morning break last month photographing student projects in the classroom of
a controversial history teacher.

Treece is that teacher. A passionate pacifist, he has been skewered publicly
by critics who say he is pedaling his personal political views to the
students in his class. Part of the proof, critics say, is in the photographs
Mott took when he visited the high school April 9 while on duty, in uniform,
and out of his jurisdiction.

The photographs were taken at around 1:30 a.m. after Mott, who once worked
at Spaulding, persuaded a custodian to unlock the door to the classroom
Treece shares with another teacher.

Mott isn't apologizing for his actions and says he has at least temporarily
refused orders from Barre Town Police Chief Michael Stevens and Town Manager
Carl Rogers to supply school officials with copies of the photographs.

"I'm going to speak to an attorney first," he said.

Mott disputes an account of the April 9 incident contained in a letter
written by school Superintendent Dorothy Anderson to the police chief.

Specifically, Mott disputes Anderson's claim that he "banged on the front
door" of the high school to get the attention of night custodian Arnold
Cliche, and that Cliche opened the door and let him in.

"It didn't happen that way," he said.

According to Mott, he entered the school through an unlocked maintenance
door, found Cliche and asked him to unlock the door to Treece's classroom
room so he could take photographs with his personal camera. Although he was
on duty at the time, Mott maintains that he was on a break and wanted to
photograph student projects that offended him as an American and a retired
military man.

"I wanted everybody else to see what was in that room. You can't explain
 it," he said.

Among the student projects that Mott said he photographed were a poster of
the President Bush with duct tape over his mouth and a large papier-mâché
combat boot with the American flag stuffed inside stepping on a doll. He
said there also were pictures of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and his former
chief lieutenant, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, posted on the walls.

"Having spent 30 years in uniform, I was insulted," he said. ". I'm just
taking a stand on what happens in that classroom as a resident and a voter
and a taxpayer of this community."

Mott said he took the photographs less than 48 hours after attending a
school board meeting at which several residents complained about what they
claimed was an attempt to "indoctrinate" not "educate" students.

School officials have rejected that notion, defending Treece as a "thought-
provoking" teacher who provides students in his public issues class with
resources from the full spectrum of political perspectives.

"As a teacher he (Treece) does present all sides of an issue," Anderson

Anderson said she was concerned that Mott used his uniform to gain access to
a locked classroom after hours without supervision.

"I find this behavior, at the very least, in violation of our policy for
visitors at the school," she wrote in her letter to the police chief. "I
also find it disturbing that a police officer would wear his uniform under
such circumstances thereby intimidating our employee (Cliche) into letting
him in the building at a very unusual hour."

Anderson said she met with the police chief and the town manager on Friday
to discuss her concerns and to reiterate her request for copies of the
photographs Mott took and has been circulating in the community. She said
Mott had not yet complied with that request, which is based solely on her
desire to confirm the photographs were not doctored in any way.

"We're not embarrassed about what was in that classroom," she said. "We just
want to make sure that the pictures he (Mott) took are an accurate
reflection of what the classroom looked like."

Mott said the photographs he took are authentic and accused school officials
of "tap-dancing" around an issue that was brought to their attention last
month by using the circumstances under which he entered Treece's classroom
as a diversion.

"It leads me to believe they are out witch-hunting," he said.

Treece said he knows the feeling. He says Mott and his other detractors don'
t have a clue about what he does in his classroom, but that hasn't stopped
them from jumping to conclusions based on his personal political views.

"None of these parents know me in any way," he said. "They just think they
know me. Everything they know about me is hearsay. They don't have kids in
my class. They have taken lies and innuendoes and run with them."

Treece does not hide his personal views and acknowledges his public
criticisms of the war in Iraq and President Bush have irked many in the
community. However, he said their contention that he is force-feeding his
views to Spaulding students is simply wrong.

"I tell kids from day one: 'I don't want you to agree with me, I want you to
be informed and think for yourselves," he said. "I have never squashed
dissent in my class in any way shape or form."

Treece said his message to students is simple: "Defend what you believe and
if you can't defend it I'm going to pick holes in your argument no matter
what side of the issue you're on."

Treece said he supplies his students with a broad range of resources and
encourages them to use them to come to their own conclusions.

"My goal in that class is to get kids to think and be critical of everything
they read and hear and see," he said.

Treece said he's tired of being painted as anti-American simply because he
challenges students not to take what anyone - not the president, their
parents, or even he - says at face value.

"I want them to understand that everybody's got an agenda . everybody," he

Treece said that goes for his detractors, some of whom are using the
controversy over a six-word sentence - "All hail the idiot boy king" - that
he posted on a bulletin board next to a picture of President Bush as a
reason to reject the high school budget. The budget is scheduled for a
re-vote next week.

"They're out to get the budget and they've made me their whipping boy," he

Treece makes no apologies for how he conducts his classes or for his own
political views. In retrospect, he said, the comment he posted about Bush
was probably too direct.

The board meets at 7 p.m. in the high school library. Like the Malones, both
Mott and Treece said they plan to attend.

"I did not recognize how fragile people's feelings were at the time," he
said. "It was horrible timing on my part."

If he had it to do over again, Treece said he would spell out the same
sentiments in two pages of text that wouldn't have offended anyone.

Paul and Norma Malone, the local couple who first took issue with the
comment Treece posted on the board, insist they're not out to scuttle the
budget, but want to restore balance in the curriculum at Spaulding.

"Our position has been and still is there should be a balance in that
curriculum and respect in that school," said Paul Malone.

Although the couple's criticism is not limited to Treece, they admit his
comment served as a springboard for their effort.

"It's not an issue of freedom of speech. That was never the issue," he said.
"It's an issue of balance and it's an issue of professionalism."

Based on discussions with faculty, parents and students, Norma Malone said
students from a largely conservative community are being urged to view the
world to through a liberal lens.

"There's nothing from the center or from the right," she said, rejecting
Treece's comments to the contrary.

The Malones, who have formed the group "Citizens Advocating Responsible
Education," say they plan to attend tonight's school board meeting and
present a copy of a petition signed by several hundred supporters. The
petition states in part: "Students must be provided a thorough, factual,
unbiased study of the history of our nation, the importance of our
government institutions, and the significance of our political traditions so
as to engender civic duty and respect for our national values."

In order to accomplish that goal, the petition suggests revisions to the
school's policy regarding academic freedom and the appointment of community
members to the school board's curriculum committee.

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