Brookeland is a town of about 1,800, just north of Jasper. So it's small enough that when a teacher claims to have been railroaded out of a job because he's an atheist and an Obama-supporter, it doesn't take long for the rumors, trash-talk, wild accusations, and just plain weirdness to fly.
Richard Mullens has taught at Brookeland High for the past six years of his 37-year teaching career. According to the principal, he's never had any complaints filed against him. But in January, Mullens sent a statement to various media accusing a handful of small-minded parents of conspiring with school-board members to kick out a teacher they felt was a bad influence on the kids. Mullens wrote that one of his students left the classroom one day and complained to the principal that Mullens was condoning (or taking part in) an "inappropriate" discussion. Eventually, Mullens wrote, he met with the principal, as well as the girl's mother, Tammy Lowe.
"Lowe accused me of being an atheist, saying I was too liberal, and that I allowed the students to talk about inappropriate things in the classroom. I told her that occasionally students would get on topics and say things, but I was unable to censor them before they were able to say them. She said that I called her daughter a name and I denied the accusation. But then she said that I didn't believe in god and shouldn't be teaching. She also said that she had spoken to 3 other board members who agreed with her that I shouldn't be teaching because I was too liberal and I was an atheist."
Mullens was ultimately put on administrative leave, and has now decided not to renew his contract.
But Lowe told Hair Balls today that she never had a problem with Mullens's athiesm or politics. She says that the teacher engaged his students in, to use Mullens's own word, "inappropriate" discussions.
"This has nothing to do with religion," Lowe said, adding later, "I'm being badmouthed, my daughter's being harassed at school....A lot of my school-board members up here are wanting to stick their head in the sand like a bunch of damn ostriches and not say anything."
Lowe was born and raised in Brookeland, but moved when she got married, and moved back last year. She said her daughter complained about the classroom conversations since day one, but "I had not said anything because she was the new kid at school, and she didn't want nobody saying anything....She didn't want to cause problems, because everyone likes Mr. Mullens...."
And boy, do they! Some blogs (such as westtennessee.blogspot.com) have been flooded with posts by current and former students saying Mullens is a great teacher, and that Lowe once killed a student's dog and is on probation. (Lowe denies both. Hair Balls did a quick criminal records check, and there's no evidence Lowe was ever arrested and charged with a criminal offense, let alone is on probation. Curiously, the person who accused her of being on probation failed to identify the originating offense. As for the dead dog - that's apparently a she-said/she-said thing.)
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Lowe says about twenty other parents and students have provided corroborating allegations to the school's principal - but Lowe and her daughter are the only ones taking the brunt because none of the other complainants have been publicly identified.
"They won't say anything out in the open," she said. "They did it in private."
Hair Balls has calls in to Mullens, his attorney, the principal and the district superintendent. So stay tuned for more.
-- Craig Malisow