Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

09/20/2007

GUILFORD — The parents of a freshman student whose teacher resigned after he gave her a sexually explicit illustrated book said Wednesday their daughter has been the target of harassment from fellow students, and they want the school district to do more to clarify the issue with other parents.

The girl’s father, who asked that his family remain anonymous because it has already been the target of criticism, described the graphic novel that English teacher Nate Fisher gave the student as “borderline pornography.”

The book, one of a series of comic book novels by Daniel Clowes, is called “Eightball #22.” It includes references to rape, various sex acts and murder, as well as images of a naked woman, and a peeping tom watching a woman in the shower.

“It’s not even like a gray area,” the father said. “It’s clearly over the line.”

He said Fisher gave the student the book almost three weeks ago to make up for a summer reading assignment. The book is not part of the school’s regular curriculum.

Her parents brought their concerns about the book to the high school and school district’s administration, and Fisher resigned Tuesday, a week after being placed on administrative leave.

Fisher, who had been a teacher at the high school for one year, could not be reached for comment.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Forcella said the book was “inappropriate” for freshman students. The girl recently turned 14.

Forcella said that the school district’s investigation is closed now that Fisher has resigned. But the girl’s father rejected that explanation, calling the school’s acceptance of Fisher’s resignation a “cop out.”

“Now they don’t have to worry about it,” he said. “They can close the investigation, they’re done with the matter and now they’re out of a sticky situation.”

The student’s parents said they met with Forcella and other school officials on Monday and were told the district would send an e-mail to parents explaining that the girl was not at fault, which they had not received as of Wednesday afternoon. Forcella said the district is planning to e-mail a statement and post it on the school system’s main Web site.

“I’m extremely upset with the administration for not following through with their word of contacting the parents,” the father said. “It looks like we got some teacher fired (over) a Harry Potter novel or Catcher in the Rye.”

The girl’s mother said her daughter has been “crying every night” and asking not to go to school because students who liked the teacher are blaming her. The mother said that some students set up a group on Facebook, the social networking Web site, calling for Fisher to be reinstated and criticizing the student. The family called the police when, they said, a video was posted on the site with a picture of their daughter and a song with the lyrics “Don’t hesitate to exterminate.” The Facebook page has since been removed.

“He’s the cool, favorite teacher of all the kids,” the father said.

His wife said she became especially concerned when her daughter told her Fisher asked her “how the book made her feel,” although the mother added that she has no idea “what his intention was.”

“She was victimized by him to begin with and over and over again for 2½ weeks now,” she said. “We just feel like if people understand what he had given her, then they would understand that it’s not our daughter’s fault.”

“Eightball #22” features a number of intersecting stories told in comic book form. Charles Brownstein, executive director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund in New York City, said that Clowes is a well known graphic novelist. Clowes is also the author of the graphic novel “Ghost World,” which was adapted into a feature film in 2001.

“The book was basically a profile of a town and its various oddball personalities and it was drawn in a wide variety of illustrative styles to create a psychological portrait of the goings on in this town,” Brownstein said. “It certainly is not pornographic.”

He added: “Frankly, I find the fact that somebody has left their job over this particular work deeply troubling.”

Brownstein said he thinks the nature of graphic novels — which combine images and text — and the relative youth of the genre can lead to confusion.

“Somebody could do a superficial glance of the material and not put the contextual pieces together, thereby perhaps seeing a panel with violence, perhaps seeing a panel with nudity and taking the image out of context as something that it’s not,” he said. “The more people are educated about the category, the less those sorts of misunderstandings occur.”

Brownstein said his organization can provide assistance and representation for people involved in legal situations about comic books and graphic novels. The Guilford Police Department has said that it is investigating a complaint against Fisher.

Forcella said that, if Fisher applies for jobs in the future, the fact that he left Guilford High School at this point in the school year will be apparent on his application, and the circumstances of his resignation would come up if a school district called for references.

The girl’s parents differed on whether they think he should be able to teach again.

“The last thing I want to do is ruin somebody’s career who made a mistake, but he’s responsible for our daughter,” the mother said.

Her husband disagreed.

“I personally don’t ever want him teaching again,” he said. “There is nothing that he could say that would account for this. … That poor judgment is something you can’t take back.”

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