Sunday, April 25, 2010

Slain DC middle school principal reported to be gay by community

The issue of the “DC Agenda” (formerly the Washington Blade, see Nov. 2009) on April 23 greets its readers with the headline “Slain D.C. middle school principal was gay”, with the story by Lou Chibbaro, Jr. The secondary byline was “Brian Betts hailed as innovative educator, hero to students”, with the online link here.  I did not see a similar story(yet)  in the competing Metro Weekly this weekend.


The Agenda story is quite detailed, and follows what was reported in major Washington DC media. Betts had been visible in the Montgomery County public school system before being hired by controversial DC school system chancellor Michelle Rhee for a job in the troubled DC system.

The report indicates that he was “out” to a circle of friends and to some people within the DC school system. Apparently he had hosted an event at his home on April 14.

Mr. Betts was known for his ability to connect to and build personal confidence of disadvantaged students. When I was substitute teaching, I was put into a couple of situations by “ambush” where “fathering” or connections skills more direct than I was comfortable with were suddenly needed. (With a great majority of students, a more “workplace-like” approach from a sub is appropriate; AP students love it when you treat them as grownups in the workplace with due dates for projects.)

Gays in teaching had been a political issue, at one time somewhat comparable to gays in the military. In 1978, California voters turned down the Briggs initiative, which would have essentially implemented a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy in strictest form for teachers. Governor Reagan had opposed it.

One gay may English teacher in the Fairfax County system had told me that when he started teaching in 1989, he was specifically asked to keep quiet about it. English teachers have often skirted the sexuality of writers like Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde (I read “The Picture of Dorian Gray” in senior English for a book report in high school), or gender-related issues in lesser known works of Shakespeare and other classical writers. On the other hand, a video shown in English in FCPS does consider speculations about Shakespeare’s own sexuality.

Online activity by teachers can pose issues, also, whether because of search engines (as with blogs and conventional sites) or because of the mechanics of social networking sites. I describe some of my own experience with this on my “BillBoushka” blog July 25 and July 27, 2007.

Mr. Betts tribute page is on Facebook, here.

Update: May 3

Markham Adams has a story on WJLA Channel 7 (ABC), "3 Arrested in Connection With DC Principal's Murder", link here.  There is some suggestion that Mr. Betts met suspects in telephone chat.

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