Folk singer Bob Haworth lost a gig after a high school teacher accused him of racism for his song parodies about illegal aliens. Now Mr. Haworth says the teacher should lose his job, too.
Mr. Haworth, who sang with the Brothers Four and Kingston Trio revival groups, pleaded his case two weeks ago at a Jefferson County school board meeting, arguing the teacher should be fired for using class time to defame him in front of students.
"I asked for the appropriate discipline, and I indicated the appropriate discipline would be dismissal, which is what he asked for me," Mr. Haworth said. "I'm just hoping the school board will do the right thing."
It began Sept. 13 during one of Mr. Haworth's regular Thursday night performances here at the Atlanta Bread Company. The audience had requested several of his song parodies, including "Pizza for Pesos" and "Can You Get Me In?"
Both tunes, which he wrote for KHOW-AM radio in Denver, poke fun at federal and local immigration policy. "It was a very casual atmosphere, lots of people having a good time," Mr. Haworth said. "But there was one very touchy customer who apparently didn't like my songs and wrote a letter demanding I be fired." Included in the letter was a business card identifying the customer as a teacher with the Jefferson County public schools.
Rob Rudloff, the restaurant's owner, said he initially tried to suspend Mr. Haworth for a few performances. When Mr. Haworth balked, Mr. Rudloff took him off the schedule, but then said he wanted to work out a compromise.
"We're personally fairly conservative. But when we put on our Atlanta Bread Company shirts, we get really uncomfortable when politics come up," Mr. Rudloff said. "We want an environment that's comfortable for everyone's political beliefs."
Mr. Haworth said he would have been willing to take the immigration songs out of his repertoire. "I respect an owner's right to have control over what goes on in his walls," he said. "It's not a free-speech issue. They're paying me, so it's their prerogative." It looked as if Mr. Haworth would get his job back, which is why he said he was startled to receive an e-mail from Mr. Rudloff a few days later bidding him adieu. "At this point, I don't see any way of reconciling this with you. Good luck going forward," said the Oct. 2 e-mail.
By this time, Mr. Haworth was telling his story on talk radio, finding a sympathetic audience on KHOW-AM's "The Peter Boyles Show." He was also trying to learn the name of his accuser when the show received a call from a woman he had never met named Jennifer Barbagiovanni. She had learned of Mr. Haworth's plight from a friend who listened to the Boyles show, and it all sounded familiar. Her son, Joey, a 15-year-old sophomore at Arvada High School, had been complaining about an English teacher who was trying to have a singer named Bob Haworth fired for his "racist" and "offensive" songs. "He said how flat-out racist these songs were against Mexicans and Asians," Joey said. "He talked about it the whole class period. He said he wrote a letter and told them he didn't want Bob Haworth ever playing at this restaurant again."
Joey identified the English teacher as Scott Murphy. Jefferson County schools spokeswoman Lynn Setzer would not confirm the teacher's name, and a message left with her for Mr. Murphy was not returned by press time.
Ms. Setzer said the teacher had been scolded for including his business card with the letter of complaint. The restaurant does about $8,800 annually in catering business with the district, she said.
"The teacher did have a conversation with the superintendent of schools, who told him it was bad judgment to include his business card," Ms. Setzer said. "He's not representing the school district by any means. He agreed it was an error in judgment."
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