AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — An Aurora high school teacher who was suspended for the past year will return to the classroom in the fall with an extra $75,000 in his bank account. Civil rights attorney David Lane calls it a complete vindication for his client, Jay Bennish.
“He’s getting $75,000 out of the district and being put back in the classroom. They don’t give racists $75,000. They don’t put racists back in the classroom,” said Lane.
In January, FOX31 broke Bennish’s story. He had been placed on paid administrative leave in August 2019.
At the time, the Cherry Creek School District said Bennish was accused of using offensive and racist language with students that created an environment in which students did not feel safe and free to learn.
Bennish told FOX31 he became a target after two African-American female students came to him at the beginning of the school year wanting permission to use the N-word and the “B-word” at club events. He said, “No, it would violate district policy.”
As soon as the district learned the Problem Solvers were preparing a story on Bennish’s suspension, it sent a letter home to parents stating, “These allegations include whether Mr. Bennish used the ‘N word’ in his classroom and acted appropriately as the adult sponsor of the Black Student Alliance.”
“I can’t imagine that the principal and the district would take the position that I should’ve said yes to these students and encouraged that type of language to be used at a school setting,” said Bennish in a January interview with FOX31.
On July 20, the district and Bennish agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding, a legal agreement that — among other things — pays Bennish $75,000 and reinstates him to any high school in the district except for Overland, where Bennish had taught for more than 20 years.
In addition, the MOU states, “Mr. Bennish and Ms. Armour (Overland’s principal) will agree not to disparage each other for 5 years or until Mr. Bennish terminated employment with the CCSD, whichever is longer.”
Lane told FOX31, “The principal had a game plan to get Jay out of Black Studies and replace him with an African-American teacher.”
Under the agreement, the district will also terminate the current teacher dismissal process it had begun against Bennish.
Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried told FOX31 in a statement:
“As I considered the possibility of students having to be re-victimized in a dismissal hearing with Jay Bennish, I decided that I did not want to put children in that position.
I want to reaffirm our commitment to always investigate any allegation of racist behavior by an adult in one of our schools against students. We must ensure that our schools are safe places where all students, especially our Black, Brown and Indigenous students, feel supported and valued.
With this draft settlement agreement, the district gets to determine future teaching assignments. As such, Mr. Bennish will not teach Advanced Placement or Black Studies classes and he will not return to Overland High School.”
The statement from Siegfried infuriated Lane, who responded, “This is outrageous. The ink on this memo of understanding isn’t even dry and the superintendent is already violating it. If it’s a full-on war they want, it’s a full on war they’ll get.”
Lane told FOX31 there is nothing in the agreement that should prevent Bennish from teaching in his area of expertise.
“He should be able to teach AP and Black Studies again because that is what the district promised,” Lane said.
A spokeswoman for the district told the Problem Solvers the district gets to determine future teaching assignments and added the final settlement has not been signed and executed.
In response, Lane said, “If they are backtracking on a legally enforceable document they are buying into a lawsuit.”