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Mass. Teacher Snubs Paige Honors Over Union Remark

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Associated Press
Monday, March 8, 2004; Page A17

The Massachusetts teacher of the year refused to attend an event in Washington honoring the nation's top educators because U.S. Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige called the nation's largest teachers union a "terrorist organization."

Jeffrey R. Ryan, a history teacher at Reading Memorial High School who lost a friend in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said he could not accept Paige's apology for his Feb. 23 comments about the 2.7 million-member National Education Association. Ryan has taught for 25 years.

Paige said the remark was a "bad joke." But Ryan said: "Nazi death camps aren't funny. Lynching people isn't funny. . . . And terrorism isn't funny. I just couldn't show up and shake that man's hand after he made those remarks."

Forty-four teachers of the year attended last Monday's conference, which the department had arranged weeks before Paige's comment.

Paige had made the comment in a private meeting with governors. He later apologized for his choice of words, but maintained that the union uses "obstructionist scare tactics." "I can assure you, I have nothing but the highest esteem for teachers and the teaching profession," he told the teachers last week.

Ryan, 49, said his refusal to attend the conference was also a protest of the No Child Left Behind Act, which he called a "stealth tactic by the Bush administration to undermine public schools."

Education Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey said the administration has pumped billions more dollars into public education. Had he attended the conference, Ryan could have expressed his opinion directly to Paige, she said.

Pennsylvania's representative was Joyce Dunn, a first-grade teacher in Shanksville, where United Flight 93 crashed during the Sept. 11 attacks.

"I thought it was a very poor choice of words, and he did apologize," she said. "I felt it was important to go to the forum because of the issue of No Child Left Behind and the implications of how it affects children were so much greater than Secretary Paige's comments."