School System Leaves Soldier Behind - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

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School System Leaves Soldier Behind

(Story created: 7/6/06)

A Wilson County soldier went to war and now is fighting another battle back here at home. Capt. John Parker says he was forced to decide between serving his country and saving his job as a school teacher.

Like so many soldiers who have helped fight the war on terror, Capt. John Parker put his life on the line every day while he was deployed in Afghanistan.

"I signed up to serve my country," Parker told NewsChannel 5 investigative reporter Jennifer Kraus.

And serve he did, which is why he was so shocked at how he was treated when he came back home to Wilson County.

"It just made me feel that the people I was fighting for were the exact people that were taking my job from me," he added.

You see, Parker is not just a soldier.

He's also a teacher who taught criminal justice to high school students and helped coach the school wrestling team before he was sent to the Middle East with the Army Reserves.

Parker says that before he left, "I just told all the kids, 'Hey, I'll be going, but I'll be back.'"

He went back to Wilson Central High School after his first year-long tour in Afghanistan.

And, after a second tour of duty there, he expected to return to the classroom again.

Parker should have had no problem going back to work thanks to a special federal law that protects soldiers like Parker.

It guarantees that, when they come home from their deployment, they'll get their old jobs back for at least a year.

But just one month after Parker went back to work, the Wilson County School system told him his teaching contract was not being renewed and he was out of a job.

Wilson County Director of Schools Dr. Jim Duncan, the man who sent the letter informing Parker that he was being let go, insists that "he was not fired."

Duncan maintains that the teacher-turned-soldier was told not to return to school the next year because there just weren't enough students signed up for Parker's class.

But Duncan also admits that he had problems with Parker being sent to Afghanistan not once, but twice.

"It was like we got these classes going and you're supposed to be the teacher," Duncan tells Kraus.

"So, you're saying his teaching position should have been his priority?" Kraus asks.

"Firmly. Yes."

But it doesn't matter what Duncan thinks. In a document put out by the National School Boards Association, it's spelled out in black and white that a soldier's job is protected when he's called to service.

But despite the law, the director of schools says he still feels that when class started, instead of being on the battlefield, Parker should have been in the classroom.

"Could he have said something to his superiors? 'Look, I really need to get back there. If everything is equal, I need to get back there (to Wilson Central High School) January 3rd because that's when my class starts and I need to be with those kids for the full semester.'"

Parker's attorney Gary Blackburn says his client "chose to risk his life. He didn't choose to risk his job."

Blackburn says what happened to the soldier is not the way someone who has honorably served his country should be treated.

"People who are willing to leave their homes, go to strange environments, endure personal hardships and threats of death should not be punished when they return home for their sacrifice," Blackburn adds.

"It's wrong."

John Parker agrees.

"I just feel it's an injustice," he says.

Parker says he loves his country and his job teaching. And, he doesn't think it was fair to make him choose between the two.

"It's pretty hard to believe in a country where we're out there fighting for liberty, that those same things are not being given back to us when we come back."

Late Thursday afternoon, Capt. Parker filed a lawsuit against the Wilson County School Board claiming the school system broke the law and violated his rights.

He says he just wants his old job back at Wilson Central High School.

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