Teacher Placed On Leave & House Searched By Police Due To Fictional Novel

Patrick McLaw & His Book "The Insurrectionist"
In what's destined to become a 'how-not-to-react' cautionary tale involving a citizen's basic civil rights, one Maryland teacher found himself at the receiving end of a suspension and a police search of his home after officials discovered he previously published a science fiction novel involving a school shooting 900 years in the future. Patrick McLaw, a 23-year-old middle school teacher at Mace’s Lane Middle School in Dorchester County, Marland, couldn't have anticipated the reaction he'd receive for a novel published under a pseudonym in 2011 (before taking his teaching position) that would land him in a work suspension, a police investigation, and "taken in for an emergency medical evaluation."

According to a press release published last week by the Dorchester County superintendent of schools, McLaw was placed on a leave pending an investigation “due to significant matters of concern brought forth by law enforcement.” The superintendent continued:
“While on administrative leave, he is not allowed to come onto school property or participate in school events. Mr. McLaw’s teaching duties have been assigned to qualified personnel to insure the smooth transition of students into the fall semester."
According to local Maryland news affiliate WBOC:
Early last week the school board was alerted that one of its eighth grade language arts teachers at Mace's Lane Middle School had several aliases. Police said that under those names, he wrote two fictional books about the largest school shooting in the country's history set in the future. Now, Patrick McLaw is placed on leave.

Dr. K.S. Voltaer is better known by some in Dorchester County as Patrick McLaw, or even Patrick Beale. Not only was he a teacher at Mace's Lane Middle School in Cambridge, but according to Dorchester Sheriff James Phillips, McLaw is also the author of two books: "The Insurrectionist" and its sequel, "Lillith's Heir."

Those books are what caught the attention of police and school board officials in Dorchester County. "The Insurrectionist" is about two school shootings set in the future, the largest in the country's history.

Phillips said McLaw was taken in for an emergency medical evaluation. The sheriff would not disclose where McLaw is now, but he did say that he is not on the Eastern Shore. The same day that McLaw was taken in for an evaluation, police swept Mace's Lane Middle School for bombs and guns, coming up empty.
In equally disconcerting local reporting conducted by the Star-Democrat (based in Easton, Maryland):
“All appropriate background checks were conducted prior to Mr. McLaw’s employment with DCPS,” Wagner said. “Furthermore, none of the above-mentioned matters took place in conjunction with his employment with DCPS.

“Nevertheless, by way of additional precautions, the Cambridge Police Department (CPD) is providing a presence at MLMS. His photo and the original press release have been issued to all schools. We are working closely with law enforcement (the Dorchester Sheriff’s Department and CPD) to insure [sic] that all of our security protocols are followed.”

The 2013-14 school year was McLaw’s first year teaching at Mace’s Lane Middle School. He was one of the nominees for Dorchester County’s First Class Teacher of the Year earlier this year.
McLaw published two books under a pen name - a commonplace occurrence in the literary world - well before he began his teaching position in Maryland. After school officials met with local law enforcement (after discovering the writings), no one thought to ask McLaw about the books or his pen name before proceeding; rather, they took action - action that could potentially end McLaw's career as a teacher for completely legal, constitutional speech.

But the violation of McLaw's civil rights didn't stop at the illegal suppression of his writings; school officials and law enforcement then colluded to have McLaw's personal residence searched (I'd love to read that search warrant and speak to the judge who approved it). Thereafter McLaw was involuntarily committed for a psychiatric "medical evaluation" and is apparently still under some form of police detention as police have commented that McLaw "does not currently have the ability to travel anywhere.”

All of this because McLaw dared to use his First Amendment right to free speech.

The entire debacle - one for which I hope McLaw sues for enough money to where he never has to worry about working again - seems ironic in light of a tidbit of information also relevant to the current story. CBS Local - Washington said, "A USA Today archived story shows that McLaw previously made national news after helping a 14-year-old student self-publish his own e-books on Amazon." McLaw was also nominated for Dorchester County’s “Teacher of the Year” award recently for his first (and only) year teaching at the very same school.

For now details surrounding McLaw's location and detention status are unknown as law enforcement have refused comment to all news media surrounding his unlawful home search and detention. It's still unclear exactly what laws McLaw was supposed to have broken in writing two novels prior to his time teaching, and no one in either the school administration or local law agencies seem to be willing to say. A change.org petition has been generated demanding an apology and reinstatement (though it's yet to be seen if McLaw would actually want his position back after how his district has treated him).

Meanwhile school district officials have continued their overreaction even after removing McLaw from his teaching role and having his life turned upside down. The Atlantic noted:
Dorchester County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Henry Wagner told WBO that police will be present at the middle school "for as long as we deem it necessary," and the sheriff said that law-enforcement officials across the Delmarva peninsula have been given McLaw's photo in case he shows up in their jurisdictions—though again, it is not clear if he is, in fact, in police custody at the moment.
UPDATE as of 6pm ET:
The LA Times reported this afternoon that they received information conflicting with local media accounts attributing McLaw's suspension, detention and home search to his previously published novels. According to the LA Times:
"It didn't start with the books and it didn't end with the books," State's Attorney for Wicomico County Matt Maciarello told The Times. "It's not even a factor in what law enforcement is doing now." [SNIP] 
Concerns about McLaw were raised after he sent a four-page letter to officials in Dorchester County. Those concerns brought together authorities from multiple jurisdictions, including health authorities. McLaw's attorney, David Moore, tells The Times that his client was taken in for a mental health evaluation. "He is receiving treatment," Moore said. [SNIP]  
McLaw's letter was of primary concern to healthcare officials, Maciarello says. It, combined with complaints of alleged harassment and an alleged possible crime from various jurisdictions led to his suspension. Maciarello cautions that these allegations are still being investigated; authorities, he says, "proceeded with great restraint."
There hereto unreleased letter doesn't mesh with reports of the school district conducting a gun and bomb search of the school (that is to say, unless the letter indicated such a scenario). 

The question now is, why did multiple news sources report otherwise? Why only now is a news source across the nation reporting something else? 

About Tim Peacock:

For virtually his entire life, Tim has been writing. Over the years he's dabbled in mainstream fiction, science fiction, dystopian fiction, and personal essays. The one consistent thread through his entire writing career has been blogging - he's been doing it since 1997 in one form or another. In addition to writing Tim has frequently worked and volunteered as a civil rights advocate including on campus LGBT advocacy as well as interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division.

You can find Tim online at Peacock Panache as well as his personal website. You can also find him on LinkedIn as well as on Twitter as @timsimms

In The Land Of The Blind: Ferguson, Elections & Civic Ignorance

By Sheila Kennedy

[Originally published at SheilaKennedy.net on September 1, 2014]

In The Land Of The Blind: Ferguson, Elections & Civic Ignorance
Yesterday’s New York Times had a story about efforts to register voters in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the tragic shooting of Michael Brown. This paragraph absolutely floored me: 
“A lot of people just didn’t realize that the people who impact their lives every day are directly elected.” Said Shiron Hagens, 41, of St. Louis, who is not part of any formal group but has spent several days registering voters in Ferbuson with her mother and has pledged to come back here each Saturday. “The prosecutor—he’s elected. People didn’t know that. The City Council—they’re elected. These are the sorts of people who make decisions about hiring police chiefs. People didn’t know.” 
The story also repeated the statistics we’ve seen before about Ferguson: a town that is two-thirds African-American with a virtually all-white power structure and a twelve percent voter turnout in the last municipal election. (And that was overall—black turnout was even lower.) 

A few pages on, the Times had a report about the growing influence of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers’ vast organization. Taken together, these articles are a dramatic picture of what is wrong with our political system. 

I know I sound like a broken record on the issue of civic knowledge. I quote the studies (only 36% of Americans can name the three branches of government! People who are civically ignorant rarely vote!). I insist that our civic deficit is far more worrisome than our fiscal one. 

These articles explain why it matters. Vividly. 

We The People need to understand something about the disproportionate influence of money in politics: it requires civic ignorance. Whether it is intentionally misleading political messages or well-meaning but wrongheaded appeals to voters, these tactics are effective only when the people on the receiving end of the message don’t know any better. 

The most basic civil right we Americans enjoy is the franchise. It would be great if we could reverse Citizens United and the other cases that have enabled the wealthy to buy our political system, but we actually have the power to neuter these people now. 

The antidote to money in politics, ultimately, is an informed electorate. 

In this day and age, it is absolutely unforgivable that American citizens don’t know who they elect—not that they don’t know the names of officeholders, but that they don’t know what offices they can vote to fill. This phenomenon is not limited to impoverished residents of Ferguson, Missouri; I regularly encounter middle-class college students who cannot define government, have no idea what a Constitution is or how it differs from a statute, and have only the haziest notion of what “rights” are. 

Money is a huge advantage, and I am not minimizing its power. But the people who are all-too-often exercising undue influence in America are those who’ve figured out how to benefit from widespread civic ignorance. 

What’s the old saying? In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

Sheila Kennedy is a former high school English teacher, former lawyer, former Republican, former Executive Director of Indiana's ACLU, former columnist for the Indianapolis Star, and former young person. She is currently an (increasingly cranky) old person, a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, and Director of IUPUI's Center for Civic Literacy. She writes for the Indianapolis Business Journal, PA Times, and the Indiana Word, and blogs at www.sheilakennedy.net. For those who are interested in more detail, links to an abbreviated CV and academic publications can be found on her blog, along with links to her books..

Florida Man Removed From Public Meeting For Refusal To Stand During Prayer Invocation

The mayor of Winter Garden, Florida attracted national attention to his small Florida town last week after he ordered police to remove a man from the town's public meeting for refusing to stand during the opening prayer invocation and pledge of allegiance. The mayor, John Rees, now claims in the aftermath of the civil rights violation that the ejection that it "wasn’t premeditated. I just reacted. It hit me. I said it. I gave him an option. Life will go on.” Unfortunately for Rees, while life may go on, this particular violation of a person's civil rights won't pass so easily.

The situation began when Winter Garden resident Joseph Richardson refused to stand for the meeting's opening prayer. Rees instructed Richardson to stand since the prayer thanked God for "allowing us to live in a country where we’re free to believe, think, and pray.” 

Richardson verbally refused stating, "I don’t believe I have to do that, thank you." And legally, Richardson was correct. That didn't stop Rees from making a second request to Richardson to stand. In his second request, Richardson inaccurately argued that “children have to in school" (they don't - the Supreme Court ruled on this misconception long ago). 

When Richardson still refused to stand, Rees took action. “Okay. I asked him to either stand or please be escorted out as we do the Pledge,” Rees said. “It’s just not fair to our troops and people overseas, sir.” Thereafter city police escorted Richardson from the proceedings effectively violating his First Amendment rights.

This isn't the first time the Winter Garden city commission has refused free speech requests fro Richardson. According to reporting at the Orlando Sentinel:
In emails to Bollhoefer and City Clerk Kathy Golden, Richardson has asked the city to allow him to give an invocation — a duty reserved in Winter Garden for city commissioners or, on rare occasions, a clergyman picked by the mayor. 
"As a resident of Winter Garden, I would like our city to be known for its inclusiveness for all points of view and its respect for all individuals," Richardson wrote in May. "Opening up the commission meeting invocations to everyone would be a wonderful step in that direction."
Responding to the violation of Richardson's rights, ACLU of Florida spokesperson Baylor Johnson stated, "People are not required to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance or a sectarian prayer or any kind of compulsory expression just to attend a public meeting." He continued, "The problem with telling people they have to participate in any mandatory expression is that it tells people who might have a religious objection or other deeply held belief that, if they don't go along with what the government tells them to do, they aren't welcome in this community."

While Mayor Rees doesn't seem to be too concerned about trampling on the First Amendment rights of those he disagrees with, organizations such as the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) see things differently and may engage the city should they refuse to acknowledge their wrongdoing. In a letter released Friday criticizing the mayor's actions, the FFRF said in part,  "The Supreme Court ruled over seventy years ago that compelling citizens to recite the Pledge and salute the flag violates their First Amendment rights." Later, they continued:
The government cannot ask people to stand, let alone force people to stand under threat of arrest. The Greece decision does not provide that city employees or government officials can give prayers, only than a neutral forum for others to give prayers (including atheists) may be permissible. “Our Government is prohibited from prescribing prayers to be recited in our public institutions ….” [SNIP] 
Local governments should not be in the business of writing and saying prayers—though under Greece it may hand that duty off to citizens as long as that is done in a nondiscriminatory manner. This puts Winter Garden in an awkward position since the city commission usually says the prayers.
Rapid patriotism and blind religious fervor do not, in fact, have a place in the United States regardless of how numerous and devoted the following may be. The First Amendment (and the proceeding Supreme Court decisions based on that foundation) have consistently held that speech must not be constrained by the government nor can belief or prayer be forced. That includes acts as seemingly simple as refusal to stand or participate in a questionably legal government official-lead prayer. 

About Tim Peacock:

For virtually his entire life, Tim has been writing. Over the years he's dabbled in mainstream fiction, science fiction, dystopian fiction, and personal essays. The one consistent thread through his entire writing career has been blogging - he's been doing it since 1997 in one form or another. In addition to writing Tim has frequently worked and volunteered as a civil rights advocate including on campus LGBT advocacy as well as interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division.

You can find Tim online at Peacock Panache as well as his personal website. You can also find him on LinkedIn as well as on Twitter as @timsimms