Mary Porter made a big mistake in her classroom last month, one she immediately regretted and one she immediately owned up to.
“I’m not a perfect teacher. My goodness,” Porter said. “All I’ve tried to do in the 20 years I’ve taught is to be a good teacher and an effective teacher and to help these kids. I don’t clock out when the bell rings. I want to be there for them.”
Her admitted lapse, she said, was showing the R-rated movie “Dolan’s Cadillac” in late January to her 10th-grade English students at Richland High as part of a lesson, without fully realizing the scope of its profanity and other objectionable content.
A parent with two children at Richland High complained the movie was inappropriate and contained language insensitive to Asians. Two of the mother’s children were in Porter’s 10th-grade English class and saw the movie. The mother’s daughter, who is Asian, was in Porter’s ninth-grade class and did not see the movie.
District officials said Wednesday that Porter resigned after being placed on paid administrative leave a week after she first played the movie. Rankin County schools Assistant Superintendent Richard Morrison said then he did not know if Porter’s resignation was voluntary or forced.
“I was given two options: Resign or be fired,” said Porter, a National Board Certified Teacher who taught for more than a decade at Jackson’s Jim Hill High, then spent several years at Terry High before coming to Richland High three years ago.
Porter broke district policy by showing the movie without first clearing it with Richland High Principal Richard Sutton, Rankin County School Board president Cecil McCrory and Morrison both said this week.
However, the district policy manual posted on its website doesn’t address showing movies in class. Neither does the Richland High handbook.
Actually, it’s not a written or established policy, Morrison said Thursday. “It is a procedure principals ask teachers to follow,” he said. “They must include it in lesson plans and get permission. The movie also must show a connection to the Mississippi (curriculum) framework.”
The movie is adapted from a short story by the horror author Stephen King and involves human trafficking and murder. “My intention was to use this as a roundtable for the discussion of race and gender stereotypes that Hollywood perpetuates,” Porter said. “It would have been a Common Core activity, and I possibly would have allowed students to write letters to Stephen King to ask his take on it compared to his story of classic revenge.”
Porter said she showed the movie to her 10th-grade students during the block they were in her classroom Jan. 23 and Jan. 24, finishing it up on Jan. 27. When she arrived at the school Jan. 30, Porter said, she was asked to attend a parent-teacher conference with the mother who complained and her husband. Not long after that, Porter said, she was asked by an assistant principal to come to the office and to bring her school-issued laptop.
She said Sutton told her, “I’m going to have to put you on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation. I need your badge and your key.” Porter said she left about noon.
She said she sent Sutton a Facebook message “and told him that if it would help resolve things, I would retire at the end of the year. I wanted to stay for now because I’m concerned about my kids. I’m trying to get them ready for state tests.”
Sutton asked her to come to his office early Friday afternoon, she said. “He shuts the door, and says, ‘Mary, I guess you know we just don’t have good news for you.’ He said, after reviewing the movie, … it was just bad. I said, ‘I agree.’
“He said, ‘That leaves us with two options: You can either be dismissed, or you can choose to resign. And if you choose to resign, I will give you an excellent recommendation,’ ” Porter said Sutton told her. “Those were my choices: Either be fired or resign.”
Porter said she prepared a letter saying she was resigning because her husband is having health issues and because she is close to retirement.
“I told them that I admit to my error in judgment. I admitted that I didn’t get permission but that I had a method to what I was going to do,” Porter said. “All I could do is say that I am sorry. I wasn’t trying to hide anything.”
Morrison on Thursday said again that he doesn’t know if Porter’s resignation was voluntary or forced. He said earlier that he would have to consult with Sutton, who has been at a conference all week, but still has not been able to speak with him. “That was a conversation between them,” Morrison said.
Porter’s absence created an immediate and passionate outcry from her students. They took to Instagram and Twitter, decrying the administration’s move. A plethora of parents soon followed on social media, weighing in on both sides.
Students threatened out via social media to walk Tuesday morning. About 30-40 students left their building between classes shortly before lunchtime and gathered under their flagpole. They returned to class when asked, Morrison said.
Porter turned 60 in December. She’s pondering whether to return to the classroom or enter retirement. “I’ve already gotten a phone call from a school,” she said.
“I made errors. I’m human,” she said. “I try to reach my kids in varied ways. I try to make my class fun. I feel like I put the kids at ease. They’ve always been able to come to me.”
She’s still worried about her students, who will be taking the state-required English 2 subject-area test this spring, which is required for graduation.
But during a period made even more unsettling by family health scares, Porter has been uplifted by the support she’s received.
“I feel like I’ve been vindicated through my parents and through my students,” she said.
To contact Ruth Ingram, call (601) 961-7303.