SUSPENDED: Leonora Rustamova and Steve Cann - two popular Calder High School teachers
Below is the news as it appeared on the Hebden Bridge Web in early 2009
Radio Leeds - interview with Travis Downs
Hebweb - Discussion thread (1)
Hebweb - Discussion thread (2)
Wednesday, 18 March 2009 - see below for updates
Mounting concern over the treatment of two popular Calder High School teachers has led to the formation of the ‘Friends of Rusty and Steve’ .
The group of parents and friends of the two teachers Leonora Rustamova and Steve Cann, who were suspended from the school recently, aims to support their appeal for re-instatement by collecting testimonials from students, former students, and parents who have benefited from the help and guidance of the two teachers during their many years at the school.
In an open letter, the group are calling for letters of support to be sent to the school governors or shared through the Facebook group ‘Save Miss Rusty’s Job”....
The Friends of Rusty and Steve are holding a open meeting on Thursday 26 March at 7.30pm, at Salem Mill Community Centre and would welcome anyone who wants to come and express their support for the teachers to come along.
The details of the suspensions have been kept secret by the school and the teachers have been banned from communicating with parents, students and colleagues.
“Gagging Rusty and Steve in this way goes against natural justice. Their sudden disappearance from the school has been highly distressing for their pupils,” says the group.BACKGROUND
In the middle of January, Leonora Rustamova – known affectionately by her students as “Miss Rusty” or “Rusty“- was suspended from Calder High. Her offence? She wrote and published a book: Stop! Don’t read this, a story based around Calder High, some students and staff are characters in the book. Miss Rusty wanted to create book which would interest some of her students who won’t normally read. It was only ever available from Lulu, the Internet publishing site.
Students who demonstrated soon after Miss Rusty’s suspension were discouraged. The current thread on the Hebden Bridge Web Forum started on 1st February: ”she is virtually under house arrest: she has been banned from speaking to children, banned from speaking to parents, and banned from speaking to other staff at the school.“
From the beginning, opinions have been divided. One parent wrote that he felt: ”deeply frustrated that breaking a confidence in such a way is at best naive and at worst extremely damaging at a time when at least one of those featured should be concentrating on preparations for GCSE's.“ Another wrote, ”It’s therefore difficult to see her faux pas as a major misdemeanour that should threaten her job. Surely the most proportionate way to handle this would have been informally, discreetly and while keeping her in post.“
The gist of much of the comment has been, ”In choosing the sledgehammer approach of suspension, with all its implied guilt, CHS has scored an own goal by badly underestimating Miss Rustamova’s popularity and so more or less guaranteeing the publicity it sought to avoid.“
Still in early February, there was some serious concern as local people (including the Hebweb) were approached by a reporter from the Mail on Sunday. It was clear that the suspension could become the focus of national media attention. In the end, nothing came of this, mainly, we understand, because so few people were prepared to talk to a reporter from the Mail.
The Save Miss Rusty’s Job Facebook Group began to take off, attracting hundreds of members, many of whom were students and ex-students singing Miss Rusty’s praises. The young woman who started the group, a former Calder High student, was pressured by staff at the school to remove the group. It was resurrected by the parent of 4 former Calder High students, and is gaining more members every day.
On 25th February, one of the main characters depicted in the book wrote to the Hebweb Forum a long moving message in support of Miss Rusty: ”Apart from the Biff, Chip and Kipper books I read when I was younger, STOP don't read this is the only book that I have not only read but wanted to read again and again. So yes ladies and gentlemen we can all agree that what she has done is remarkable and should be commended.“
On 10th March, it was revealed that a second highly respected and popular teacher, Steve Cann, had been suspended from the Calder High School. He had been suspended for some weeks but it was only now being made public. Once again, no information was made available to the students, parents or the community as to what the charges are. The Hebden Bridge Web wrote to Mr Ball, the Head Teacher who was unable to give us this information. Until his suspension, Steve Cann had been NUT union representative.
The next morning, police were called to Calder High School as hundreds of students walked out of lessons to demonstrate in support of the two suspended teachers.
On Tuesday, 17th March, Calder High teachers and local police confiscated badges made to support the two teachers. The Hebden Bridge Web has been informed that one student widely believed to have been suspended was in fact "removed from school by his father in agreement with the school".
It is still the case that we have no idea what these two teachers have been charged with, that they are forbidden from speaking to anyone about the case and that their current students are worried about their exam prospects given their teachers' prolonged absence.
In the past few days, the Facebook group membership has grown to 825 members. Here’s a sample of some of the contributions, just from the past 2-3 days (15th-17th March)
”Mr C and Ms R are two of the best teachers in Calder High. It seems completely nonsensical that this has happened. Are they going to eradicate Calder High of any teachers who actually care about kids and teaching and who have personality and enthusiasm?“
”Mr. Cann added character and enjoyment to our A level English Lit lessons. He always engaged everyone in the class and gave us more insight than any text book could. He shared stories, marked quickly and fairly, respected individuals and was clearly very passionate about his subject.“
”I know that my A level English Lit lessons with Mr Cann will never be forgotten by any of our class. We all learnt so much from him, about English and other worldy matters. He is one of the most enthusiastic teachers I have ever met! And I have never heard a bad word about Miss Rusty. The amount of support shown for them is amazing, completely inspiring!“
”The Head teacher and Governors should be considering whether to remain in post."
”Miss Rusty and Mr Cann were always there to help students with any problems whether it be personal issues or school work,“
”Those two represent the word teachers, they are fantastic, been teachers, friends and advisors for many of the pupils and staff at Calder High School...“
”How often do you come across teachers who inspire this much support from parents and more importantly students? “
”He has never read a book for pleasure, because he finds reading a real chore. He was therefore very surprised to find himself really enjoying his English classes and working towards his target A grade. His teacher was Mr Cann“
”I just think it's absolutely shocking that 2 of the best teachers in the English department and Calder High in general have been suspended. They are both inspirational teachers and actually care about their students.“
Friday, 27 March 2009
"How dare they suggest we are being used. We are not being used. We have opinions of our own. Aren't Hebden Bridge kids known for having their own minds!"
The top floor of Salem Mill was full yesterday evening for the meeting called by the Friends of Rusty and Steve, and most of the discussion was by students or ex-students.
Calder High School should be proud of the young people who attended. They spoke well, listened, didn't interrupt, made excellent points and showed they genuinely cared about the fate of the two teachers.
However, the youngsters were very indignant about the recent coverage in the HB Times, where it was suggested that that adults were behind the protests, and "stoking the fires of discontent".
The meeting was excellently chaired by Cllr Janet Oosthuysen. Ms Oosthuysen explained that she had children at Calder High who spoke very highly of Miss Rusty and Steve Cann. She has also been an English teacher and NUT representative.
The meeting started with an outline of the background to the suspensions given by Nahim, Travis and two young members of the Woodcraft Folk.
Nahim said that he was a former pupil of Steve Cann who he described as a "wonderfully inspirational gentleman" who inspired him to have an appreciation of literature, the arts and music.
Nahim explained very firmly that the Friends of Rusty and Steve were not against Calder High. On the contrary, they had the school's best interests at heart. But he had "grave concerns" about the process surrounding the suspensions. These concerns were over the length of time the process was taking, the lack of information being given to the students and the guilt by accusation. He couldn't understand why the Head chose to suspend the teachers when other options were open to him.
Travis Downs, now at college in Leeds and one of the main characters featured in the book, described Miss Rusty as "an amazing teacher." Travis claimed that it was not just 250 students which took part in the demonstration of 11th March. It was more like 600-700. When they tried to use more acceptable ways of protesting such as making badges, the school still called in the police to confiscate the badges.
There followed an ordered and good natured discussion for the rest of the meeting about how best to support the two teachers.
One parent who spoke said that none of us can know exactly why the teachers have been suspended. The condition of silence is imposed on the teachers in such cases to protect them. There are certain things that the school can't talk about, but they certainly could have said more about the process.
Here are some points which were made, mainly by students and ex-students.
One ex-student said she had come to the meeting to show her support for Mr Cann. "He is the only reason I got into my first choice university and I am where I am today".
Another student explained that she was halfway through an assignment with Miss Rusty. When Miss Rusty was suspended, Mr Cann took over, but then he was suspended. "We're all getting behind."
The question was raised about whether those featured in the book gave their permission. Travis replied "Yes". What about their parents? Not all of them were originally asked but all have since given their permission. (One of the parents has since contacted the Hebden Bridge Web to say that he did not and has not given permission).
When one person suggested that it might be better if the investigation was taking time as it would be more thorough, Travis explained that after two and a half months, the school still hasn't talked to anyone mentioned in the book.
A parent who is also a lawyer asked how could the suspended teachers possibly prepare a defence if they are not allowed to talk with people?
A young women who travelled to the meeting from university in Lancashire said that the real investigation should be into how Calder High have gone about this whole affair.
Friends of Rusty and Steve, who organised the meeting, urged everyone present to write their own testimonials of the two teachers. These would be of a practical help as they could be used in any disciplinary hearing. The testimonial form is also available online
Guardian article Pupils rally behind teacher suspended for writing school novel. Police halt protest in West Yorkshire in clash over 'inspirational' teacher who named children in classroom book
Update: Tuesday, 24 March 2009
Radio Leeds - interview with Travis Downs
Update: Friday, 3 April 2009
Halifax Courier front page article
Update: Tuesday, 26 May 2009
In spite of the large community campaign, demonstrations and nearly 1000 members of the Facebook group, Calder High Governors have made the decision to dismiss Leonora Rustamova
Open Letter from the Friends of Rusty and Steve group
Send the group your testimonial
Hebweb News - Miss Rusty tells her story for the first time (July, 2009)
12th March - Hansard Society - Citizenship in action - 250 pupils walk out of school in protest!
13th March - Yorkshire Post - Pupils join school protest over teacher suspensions
24th March - Radio Leeds - interview with Travis Downs
24th March - Guardian
26th March - Courier: Letter from 17 parents against the campaign
27th March - Courier: Campaigners demand probe into barred Calder High School teachers
3rd April - Halifax Courier front page article