Teacher Fired for Assigning Students to "Write Your Own Obituary" Ahead of Active Shooter Drill
The Florida high school teacher refused to resign after the school district accused him of an inappropriate assignment.
A Florida high school teacher was fired Tuesday after asking his students to write their own obituaries ahead of a planned active shooter drill. Dr. Phillips High School in Orange County, Florida, fired Jeffrey Keene, who made the assignment to 10th-, 11th– and 12th-grade students in his class. "There are mass shootings everywhere, unfortunately," Keene told The Washington Post. "So being the psychology teacher, I said, 'I can tie this into a lesson plan.'" The school and district disagreed with Keene's assignment, calling it "inappropriate." Here's what you need to know about this unusual situation.
Keene started work as a psychology teacher at Dr. Phillips High School in January. He was on probation at the time he was fired.
Keene gave his students the following assignment Tuesday morning: "TODAY… WE HAVE AN 'ACTIVE SHOOTER' ON OUR CAMPUS." He added: "TODAY WAS YOUR 'LAST DAY' ALIVE."… "WRITE YOUR OWN OBITUARY." He told students about the school's upcoming active-shooter drill and asked them what they would do in a real shooting situation.
Keene had the matter on his mind because of recent school shootings in Nashville, Tennessee, and elsewhere. He also asked students to write "what kind of 'positive actions'" to take to prevent shootings. He added that the assignment was "in no way intended to 'upset/et al' you!"
How the School Reacted
A school administrator told Keene the next period that his assignment had upset several students, who complained. The administrator asked Keene to refrain from implementing his lesson plan tied to school shootings. Later, the school gave him an ultimatum: Resign or be fired. Keene declined to quit, saying he had done nothing wrong. The school let him go later that day.
Orange County Public Schools said Keene was fired after giving an "inappropriate assignment about school violence." The district said it investigated and concluded that Keene had violated school district standards. Keene posted the district's letter to him on Facebook.
Keene defended his assignment as appropriate. "It's unfortunate, but it is a world in which we live — we can't ignore it," Keene said. "So if you cannot speak to a young adult about it, what's the best answer?" He argued that his assignment was part of his approach to get students to "think for themselves" and to "find a positive solution" to issues. "I said, 'How can we fix this situation? How is it affecting you or isn't affecting you?'" Keene said. "And that's how I approached it. And I'm thinking to myself, 'How in the world could that upset 16-, 17-, 18-year-old students?'" Keene said he will appeal his firing.
What Commenters Said
Many commenters on Reddit supported Keene. "I went to school waaaay before we needed to worry about active shooter drills, but we definitely wrote hypothetical wedding invitations, obituaries, birthday parties, literally anything you can think of," one person said. "Maybe it's a bit in bad judgement on this specific day, but damn, teachers can't even teach anymore it seems. Being fired for this seems way too harsh a punishment."
"This country will do literally anything to avoid talking about the problem we have with guns," another said. "Teacher has an assignment that is morbid when taken in the context of guns? Clearly that's the teacher's fault, certainly not the fact that kids keep getting shot with guns."
At least one agreed with the school district that the assignment was disturbing. "Honestly sounds traumatizing and like a good way to make a bad situation worse," one commenter said on Reddit. "If you already had anxiety before, I can't imagine how much harder it would be to wake up in the morning and go to school if you thought you were going to die and had been assigned to write your own obituary."