No charges to be filed in Guilford book flap

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
10/17/2007

GUILFORD – Local police and state authorities will not take any action against a former Guilford High School teacher who gave a student a mature graphic novel.

English teacher Nate Fisher resigned from his position at the high school in mid-September after giving a 13-year-old student what district administrators deemed an “inappropriate” comic book, “Eightball #22” by Daniel Clowes. The girl’s parents had objected to the novel’s discussion of rape and murder and its inclusion of some sexual images.

Guilford Police Deputy Chief Jeffrey Hutchinson said the department received a complaint about Fisher Sept. 4 and has now closed its investigation.

“Basically, we were informed, we investigated it and had contact with the state’s attorney’s office, and they said there’s nothing they’re going to prosecute, so we closed the case,” Hutchinson said. “There’s no criminal charges pending; there’s none anticipated.”

Hutchinson said he cannot release details of the investigation because it included “uncorroborated allegations.”

Fisher said Tuesday that he felt “extraordinarily relieved” when the Department of Children and Families called him to say that it had finished investigating the situation. The state’s attorney’s office later called his lawyer and said it would not prosecute.

“It’s something that had been hanging over my head, and my entire family had been affected by this,” Fisher, 29, said. “It was a very, very hard thing to sit around for a month and wait to find out whether or not I’m going to be arrested, and I was relieved when I found out that I wasn’t going to be; it was kind of a signal to me that now I could move on with my life.”

Because of the criminal investigation, Fisher had previously declined to talk to the media. He said police told him that the crimes being investigated were breach of peace and impairing the morals of a minor.

Fisher said he gave the student the graphic novel, which features a number of intersecting stories told in comic book form, because she had not done a summer reading assignment. It was part of a collection of his own books that he had in the classroom. He read the book in a graphic novels course when he was a student at the University of Connecticut and had not reviewed it for some time, he said.

“I was literally looking for … something that she could read over the weekend, something quick, because all the kids had a test on Tuesday, the weekend after, and I didn’t want her to start the year behind in her school work,” he said. “In my mind, any book that you give to a student that’s going to create a reaction like this in the student’s family is an inappropriate book, so you’ll never hear me say this was an appropriate thing to do. I just think the way it was handled wasn’t right, and it was bad for everybody.”

After the student’s parents brought their concerns to the school administration, Fisher was placed on leave and resigned about two weeks later. He said he was surprised at the school district’s reaction to the situation.

“The administration made it clear to me that they didn’t want me back, and at that point, I wanted to do what was in the best interest of my career, as well as the town of Guilford, the students and parents and everybody,” he said. “I never thought that I would be pulled out of my job without any due process to be able to defend myself or give my version of the events of what happened. I felt like they really didn’t take into account anything about my career that had happened before.”

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Forcella was not available for comment Tuesday afternoon. In September, he sent an e-mail to high school parents in which he said the graphic novel “rose to a level of unacceptability that is far beyond that of materials normally questioned in educational circles.”

The mother of the girl who received the comic book has asked to remain anonymous because the family had been criticized after Fisher’s resignation. She is satisfied with the outcome and thinks the school district “did a great job.”

Initially, she said, she was concerned about the teacher’s intentions because he gave the graphic novel to only her daughter. But she added that she now believes he made a mistake.

“It is what it is, and we really hope that his intentions were the best, and if that’s the case, then we hope that he’s able to go on and find another job and continue with his life,” she said.

Fisher, who grew up in Madison and had just started his second year teaching at Guilford High School, said that when he first resigned, he was worried that his career was over. He has been applying for new teaching jobs and also taking courses to become a certified paralegal, he said.

“This whole thing has done damage to my reputation,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to teach again, but I’m hopeful that there are school systems out there that will see this for what it is, and I’m hopeful that this isn’t something that’s going to define me for the rest of my career as a teacher.”

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