Weber teacher’s 42-year career comes to an end: Community creates Facebook page in support of Mr. Joseph

Madeline Fagen, Senior News Editor

After 42 years of teaching seventh grade English at Weber Middle School, Mr. Robert Joseph will be leaving the school district.

In March, Weber administration allegedly told Mr. Joseph he would be moved from the Green House to the Yellow House for his forty-third year of service.  He requested to stay in the Green House, where he has always been.  Since his request was denied, Mr. Joseph went to speak to Superintendent  of Schools Dr. Kathleen Mooney.

“Unfortunately, I am unable to answer any questions regarding the situation with Mr. Joseph, as it is a confidential, personnel matter,” said Dr. Mooney.  “It is a complicated situation and I am legally bound to uphold and protect his privacy, as well as that of any individual student.”

Port parent Ms. Debra Harari created a Facebook page called “Support Mr. Joseph” in which parents and students share memories of Mr. Joseph. Alleged details regarding the matter have also appeared on the page through copies of emails and claims from community members.

In an email to Weber Green House parents Mr. Joseph wrote, “I was confronted by ridiculous infractions such as complimenting an Asian student and allowing a student to place his hand on my shoulder.  Other situations were also manipulated and used against me in order to satisfy their accusations.”

One such accusation involved a student who wrote a poem to Mr. Joseph, conveying disagreement with his teaching style.  The student’s parents allegedly decided to take action against Mr. Joseph and brought an attorney to the school. The family’s claims remain classified.

Many members of the town began drawing their own conclusions as to why the district suddenly decided to let go of Mr. Joseph.

“In a time when the budget vote is always looming, it seemed that the administration had decided to make cuts by forcing out one of our senior teachers along with his salary,” said Ms. Harari.  “It is so dismaying to think that my school district could be so short-sighted, but their motives in moving Mr. Joseph are obvious.”

The district allegedly dismissed Mr. Joseph on an early medical leave despite full recovery from a previous surgery.

“The pettiness of the Port Washington School Administration in denying a formal retirement party for Mr. Joseph is beyond the pale,” said Port parent Ms. Kathe O’Connor.

Mr. Joseph was somewhat of a celebrity throughout the district.  He was known for his difficult assignments, being available to help his students, and his satirical sense of humor.

“He taught people tough love, he taught people life lessons, he taught a little bit of grammar, and he taught people who really didn’t know how to write how to do it well,” said sophomore and former student of Mr. Joseph’s Elana Israel.  “If you already knew how to write, then he wanted you to learn how to fail.  For some people, he completely changed their lives. I believe he is someone that everyone should meet.”

“Both of our kids had Mr. Joseph for English in Weber,” said Port parent Ms. Laurie Courage.  “His standards were high, but he was always there to encourage.  He taught more than English; he taught them how to be the best they could be, both as writers and as young people, and was hands down one of their all time favorite teachers.”

“He would always make borderline offensive comments that were somewhat uncomfortable but he was still a great man who prepared us for life,” said sophomore Daniel Ernst.

“No one really protested against the things he said unless they were getting bad grades in his class,” said sophomore Dylan Sica. “If you ever thought something he said was hurtful it was easy to approach him. You could tell that guy anything.”

Despite his actions during class, some believe Mr. Joseph’s punishment is simply due to the opinion of a few students, and therefore completely uncalled for.

“A disgruntled student with high-strung parents is ruining a 42-year career,” said Port parent Nancy Dover.

“In comparison to some other teachers in the district, these infractions are nothing,” said sophomore John Gallagher.  “He hasn’t been punished for the last 30 or so years for the things he said, so why is he being punished now?”

According to Mr. Joseph, the aim of his visit to Dr. Mooney was to discuss his change in house. The accusations he received were completely unexpected.

“I guess that as teachers we are allowed to teach our students to ‘question authority’ and ‘seek the truth,’ but we are not allowed to live by those very same rules,” Mr. Joseph wrote in his email.

Any claims against Mr. Joseph regarding his move in house are unknown and will not be released, as the district is currently obligated to keep them undisclosed.

Schreiber junior Jesse Epstein created an online petition supporting Mr. Joseph.  The petition, titled “Petition for Formal Apology of Port Washington School District to Mr. Robert Joseph” had a goal of 1,000 signatures but received only 315.  Despite this, the petition did achieve its goal of having Mr. Joseph unbanned from the eighth grade moving up ceremony.

“Mr. Pernick called me into his office and we talked for about an hour,” said Epstein.  “I am not pushing for negative action anymore.”

For privacy and liability reasons, he was asked to reconsider his actions.

Mr. Pernick declinded to comment on his conversation with Epstein.

After his visit with Mr. Pernick, Epstein realized that his positive experience with Mr. Joseph as a teacher gave him a view of the situation that could easily be very different from those of other students.  He was not angry with the school’s request for him to take a step back.

“Mr. Pernick told me that there’s obviously a lot I don’t know, which I agree with,” said Epstein.  “There’s always more than one side to a story, because everyone has their own perspective, and it is possible for them to all be legitimate.  While it is true that Mr. Joseph and I had a great relationship and we are good friends, that someone else could have had an awful experience that could also be legitimate, but it still does not take away from my experience with him.  So basically I’m not going to find out any more.”

Many parents and students are dedicated to making Mr. Joseph’s retirement enjoyable for him.  Multiple proposals for a retirement celebration have been made.

“I would like to host a retirement party for him at some point, once I work the details out with him,” said Epstein.

According to Ms. Harari, Mr. Joseph has requested that the party take place in the fall.

“This page has over 1200 likes,” said Port parent Ms. Adrian Miller.  “I think we should throw the best and biggest retirement party the Port Washington school system has ever seen and show them that all of their slander has been for naught.”