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GROVE CITY, PA. Teacher to fight dismissal as free-speech issue



Published: Sun, April 20, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



A Web site created by Konnen while he was in college is causing his problems.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

GROVE CITY, Pa. -- The attorney for a Grove City music teacher facing dismissal said his client will fight the charge against him.

It's really a First Amendment-free speech issue, said Atty. Todd Park of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

The Grove City School Board authorized dismissal action Monday against Dan Konnen of Hermitage, a first-year teacher at Hillview Intermediate School, accusing him of "immorality, incompetence, intemperance, persistent negligence and persistent and willful violation of the school laws of the commonwealth."

Park said that's "boiler-plate wording" from the school code listing the circumstances under which a teacher can be dismissed.

Konnen doesn't have tenure.

School officials declined to be specific about what prompted them to suspend Konnen without pay in March and then move to dismiss him, but Park said the issue centers on a personal Internet Web site Konnen created while he was a student at Grove City College.

The accusations have nothing to do with any interaction between Konnen and any pupils, Park said.

Some Grove City pupils discovered he had a Web site, which he last updated in September 2001 while still in college, and were able to access it and signed the site's guestbook, Park said.

Grove City officials apparently felt some material on the site wasn't appropriate for their pupils and took action against Konnen, he said.

What was objectionable

Aside from some sophomoric humor dealing with the male anatomy and an excerpt from the television show "South Park" that contains some profanity, the Web site isn't offensive, Park said.

It contains some photos of Konnen and his friends from their college days and items that Konnen thought were funny, Park said, noting that the articles in question weren't written by Konnen but were excerpts or reprints from other sources.

"It was something he did several years ago and doesn't rise to the level of immorality or any of the school district's other accusations," Park said.

Konnen didn't tell his pupils about the site nor did he encourage any of them to visit it. It's not even directly accessible through the Web site address, Park said.

It's a free-speech issue and has nothing to do with his work at Grove City, Park said, adding that Konnen will opt to argue his case before an independent arbiter rather than seek a hearing before the school board.

gwin@vindy.com




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