Kimberly Brancato and her sons
In January 2017, I accepted a temporary job teaching Language Arts to eighth graders at Highland Park Middle School in central New Jersey. I took over the established curriculum, teaching Animal Farm by George Orwell.
During my second week, several students said that newly elected President Donald Trump should be assassinated because he was going to take away abortion rights. After all, they said, abortion is the only recourse a 13-year-old girl has if she becomes pregnant. Besides, it’s not killing; it’s just a fetus. It’s not alive because it’s not fully developed.
I had not expected such a profound discussion with 13 and 14-year-old-students. But I was elated at the opportunity as a Christian, and responded as I understood an educator should. I used facts, and offered alternative ideas. I facilitated the students’ discussion to examine what and why they believed. When the class ended I was excited that such a great discussion had occurred among young people, many of whom heard alternative ideas.
But at the end of the day, I was called to the principal’s office and accused of causing hurt feelings by the very students that brought up the issue. They were offended by my presentation of alternative beliefs and values.
The cost of speaking truth
The district superintendent, Dr. Scott Taylor, immediately launched an investigation. Dr. Taylor’s daughter was one of the “offended” students that had engaged in the discussion. By the end of the week, I was fired. After 25 years of teaching, and earning an outstanding reputation of professional excellence and genuine care for my students, I was suddenly accused and found guilty of “Behavior Unbecoming of a Teacher.” My crimes were my “vile statements and beliefs,” as follows:
- That 13-year-olds should not be engaged in sexual activity in the first place.
- That God has created every life, which begins at conception.
- That all the DNA and material needed to be a human being is present in the fetus, so it is in fact “living.”
- That there are always alternatives to abortion.
I considered this battle with the school district as a battle for young souls, a battle of the godless vs the God-fearing in America, and fought it accordingly. One might expect such a battle in a Communist country (ironically, it actually felt like a page from Animal Farm) but never in the United States of America.
I was encouraged by a Christian nonprofit legal organization to challenge my termination on the grounds of Religious Discrimination and Wrongful Termination. I eventually won the right to sue by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But sadly, I lost sight of the true battle and my pride took over. In the end, I walked away, praying that some of those young peoples’ hearts were opened to God’s great love for them. Perhaps I had fulfilled the job God had intended me to do, regardless of the outcome.
Freedom comes from truth
In the end I received a great gift of fearlessness, the desire to speak the truth without regard for worldly consequences. This is true freedom.
I lost my job and today my house is in foreclosure. But I have been left with a burning desire to take my experience, my knowledge of American public education, and my faith and be useful to God. I am still trying to find the door that will lead me into that service for the kingdom of God.
- Kimberly Brancato