KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (CN) – The Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the decision to reinstate a tenured eighth-grade teacher who played Leonard Cohen’s controversial song “The Future,” which refers to crack and anal sex, and asked her students, “Who would Jesus bomb?”
Teacher Debra Ripley said stress and depression got the worst of her on May 17, 2006, when she started the day by angrily trashing student projects that hadn’t been taken home the night before. While dumping the projects, Ripley almost tripped over a gym bag that she had warned students not to bring into her cramped classroom. She threw the bag out the door into the hallway, and then began tossing books onto a window sill behind her desk “in an angry and aggressive way.”
Later that day, during a reading class, Ripley played Cohen’s “The Future” and wrote some of the lyrics on the board, including “Repent,” “Christ or Hiroshima,” and “Take the only tray that’s left and stuff it up the hole in your culture” (mistaking the word “tree” for “tray”).
Ripley sang along with the CD and played it three times, but claims she turned down the volume so her students would not hear the offensive lyrics of the second stanza: “Give me crack and anal sex/Take the only tree that’s left/and stuff it up the hole/in your culture/Give me back the Berlin Wall/give me Stalin and St. Paul/I’ve seen the future, brother;/it is murder.”
Ripley also stated that Baptists “preach fire and brimstone.”
When students complained, the Anderson County Board of Education voted 5-1 to fire Ripley. The trial court reversed, saying the board had to reinstate her.
The appeals court emphasized that Ripley’s actions on May 17 were “inappropriate,” but it cut her some slack based on her clean teaching record and her allegedly stressful circumstances at the time, which included caring for an elderly mother.
“(W)hile Ms. Ripley’s conduct may have called for some type of discipline,” Judge Sharon Lee wrote, “we cannot agree that her conduct warranted the drastic action of termination of her employment.”