Substitute teacher fired for voicing support of Russia's invasion into Ukraine

Substitute teacher fired for voicing support of Russia's invasion into Ukraine
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Some teachers haven’t gotten the message yet. Parents are not sitting back and allowing the wrong lessons to be taught to their school-age children. A substitute teacher in Arlington, Virginia learned the hard way on Tuesday that parents don’t want their children to be told that a teacher supports Putin and his decision to invade Ukraine.

Substitute teacher John Stanton, age 65, was teaching an eighth-grade Spanish lesson last Friday at Swanson Middle School. He used the first ten minutes of the 90-minute class to talk to the students about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He told a reporter on Tuesday that he hoped to offer students an opposing viewpoint, which he stated is rarely heard. He encouraged students to read many news sources, as many as possible. He included Sputnik News, a Russian “state-run propaganda machine”, according to a report put together by the FBI, CIA, and NSA in 2017. Stanton also drew a map of Ukraine that included areas marked where Russian forces had invaded.

Stanton has been suspended.

I have questions. Why is a substitute teacher discussing current events – in this case a war – with a Spanish class? The students are middle school age so they understand at least some discussion of war and sovereignty of countries but the question is why was he doing that in the first place? It wasn’t his job to then offer a pro-Russia opinion to them. Eighth graders are usually 13 years old. They are not typically mature enough to carry on an adult conversation on the pros and cons of foreign policy as it relates to decisions of war. There is no acceptable opposing opinion on this topic. Russia invaded Ukraine and that is not to be acknowledged as reasonable behavior, even from a brutal mad man like Putin. The students certainly don’t need to be told to read Russian propaganda in outlets like Sputnik News.

“I said, ‘Here’s what’s going on,’” Stanton said. But “the statement I think that got me was I said, ‘I personally support the logic of Putin,’ and what I meant by that is, he made a rational decision from his perception.”

Parents of one of the students in the class wrote to the school board to raise concerns about Stanton. To make matters worse, the parents noted that there was a Ukrainian student in the class.

The Friday lesson prompted parents of a student in the class to write to the School Board raising concerns about Stanton. In the email, a copy of which was shared with The Washington Post, the parents wrote that Stanton “told students he supported Russia, asked whether anyone in the class ‘hated Russia,’ and complained about rising gas prices, presumably as an effect of the current crisis.” The email noted there was a Ukrainian student in the class.

The parents wrote that Stanton’s comments amounted to “advocacy of political positions, and Russian propaganda” and called the remarks “wholly inappropriate.”

Stanton said he has been a substitute teacher for three years, supplementing his income in his retirement. He emailed a copy of his resume to the Washington Post. It is interesting, to put it mildly. He has been “a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, as host of an unspecified 1980s “political/cultural radio program” in D.C. and as an “independent journalist” who provided commentary on national security and political issues to U.S. news outlets including CNN, ABC and this newspaper’s Foreign Policy magazine. Stanton said he still writes for outlets such as Pravda, which was the Soviet Union’s chief propaganda platform.”

He still writes for Pravda? And he worked for Sputnik News in Washington, D.C. from 2016 to 2018. Is there not any vetting going on before a person is hired to be a substitute teacher? Red flags (no pun intended) are flying all over the place for this guy. On February 28 Pravda published an opinion piece written by Stanton in which he went off on the United States, saying the U.S. “owns every country in the NATO alliance.” He called the invasion of Ukraine “great news for the West’s defense contractors” and that they will earn “billions in profits.” He noted that people airing support for Russia “gets mauled and derided by pro-West pundits.” This is where I say again, there isn’t two sides to this discussion. Russia is wrong and has to be held accountable for invading its neighbor in hopes of annexing the country. Putin wants to put the old Soviet Union back together and that is not a topic that eighth graders understand.

Stanton was fired by Sputnik News because he was involved with providing information about the news outlet to a third-party client. He called his client “a U.S. government intelligence agency.” “I was extracting as much information as possible from their [Sputnik News] computer systems, taking pictures of the staff, collecting information,” Stanton said. Is he a former spy of some kind? Good heavens. This guy doesn’t need to be in the classroom. How did he get to be a substitute teacher anyway? Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia wouldn’t discuss a personnel matter but did explain that there is a pool of substitute teachers and they don’t have to have any background in the subject area that they are teaching.

This is another example of why parents are pulling their kids out of public schools. Schools are mismanaged and not serving parents or students as they should. School boards should be prepared to answer for their bone-headed decisions because parents aren’t going to take it anymore.

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