Metro-East News

Teachers union calls for superintendent’s resignation after controversial column

A Southern Illinois teachers union is calling for the superintendent’s resignation or removal after he wrote a column for a local newspaper that many in the community found to be inappropriate.

Nashville Community High School Superintendent Ernie Fowler said in hindsight, he never should have published the column about volleyball that appeared Wednesday on The Nashville News website. The teachers union at the high school called it “unacceptable.”

Fowler wrote that the highlight of his “volleyball career” had nothing to do with the actual sport, but came when he was 15 and participating in a volleyball match during a P.E. class. He says he found himself positioned along the front line, directly across from a girl he describes as “the blonde-haired, blue eyed girl of my high school fantasy world.”

“My eyes were in direct line with her well-developed assets which were hidden under a T-shirt with the word ‘bullets’ sprawled across the front,” Fowler wrote. “It was 10 seconds of Heaven.”

Fowler said he had been writing weekly columns for The Nashville News, which are usually tongue-in-cheek, for two years. He said he hadn’t thought in this case about how people might “take this the wrong way.”

“I guess in this case, if you look up the word stupid in the dictionary, you’d see my picture,” he said.

He was surprised by the negative reaction from the community and said he wrote it thinking “people would chuckle.”

“Unfortunately, many people were offended by that, and I can certainly see that,” Fowler said. “I feel like it was a mistake for me to use that description.”

Fowler issued a statement after the backlash, saying he will no longer be writing the column.

“It would appear that I may have offended some people with my column last week. Let me say that, if you are one who was offended, I sincerely apologize,” he wrote. “My point of view was from a typical 15-year-old boy as I tried to show the humor in the experience.”

He stated that if he ever wrote something to make people think less of him, he would quit writing. “That time has come.”

Under the Nashville News post online, several people commented and expressed concern.

“What a creepy old man,” Kathy Brink wrote, garnering at least 10 likes on the comment.

Others wondered why Fowler thought the column was appropriate.

“So, all you know about volleyball is that there’s teenage girls with boobs that you are excited about checking out, and you decide to write an article about that.... Very disturbing. How mentally unstable is this person to think writing this article is in any way acceptable??!?” Haley Ann Wisniewski wrote under the post.

Several others said he should be removed from his position.

“I guess if you’re trying to get yourself fired, publicly fantasizing about the breasts of a 15-year-old girl as good a way as any...” John Elder wrote, with at least 12 people liking the comment.

Fowler said he was thinking about how he wasn’t as athletic in high school as the Nashville girls volleyball players are today when he was writing the column, and the story of that day in his P.E. class came to mind.

“I certainly didn’t mean any disrespect or any ill will or anything like that,” he said. “I made a mistake. ... I apologize, and I would hope that the people of Nashville would extend to me the same measure of grace and forgiveness that they themselves might seek if they made a mistake. It’s something that I’ve learned from, and I certainly will never repeat that again.”

Fowler emphasized that his column was about an experience he had 40 years earlier.

“The kids at our high school, to me, are kids, and I respect them and care about them,” Fowler said. “I certainly wouldn’t want parents to think that some old man like me would ever look at their child that way. That absolutely couldn’t be further from the truth.”

In his statement, Fowler said the goal of his column was to show the community he is human and can laugh at himself.

“My goal was to bring a smile to the face of someone who might need a chuckle from time to time,” Fowler wrote. “Those of you who know me understand that I am not a ‘crackpot’ but rather a person who cares deeply about NCHS and the kids who attend here. I have a strong belief in God and try to live a life based on Christian principles.”

“I will continually strive to help us make NCHS the best school possible,” Fowler wrote. “If being a ‘columnist’ interferes with that mission, then it is time to put an end to it. Once again, for those of you who were hurt or offended, please accept my humble apology.”

The Nashville High School teachers union previously approved a no-confidence vote on Fowler on May 9.

“We are aware of the gravity of such a vote and do not take it lightly,” the union stated at the time.

They said in a statement Friday that Fowler’s column “further demonstrates that he is unfit to be the superintendent of Nashville High School.”

“We, as individuals of the community and collectively as a teachers’ association, vehemently denounce the unacceptable article that Mr. Fowler published in the Nashville News on August 30, 2017,” they stated.

After the teachers’ vote of no-confidence in May, the Nashville District 99 school board members issued a statement calling the teachers’ accusations “baseless and without merit.” School board members couldn’t be reached Friday for comment on Fowler’s column.

Fowler earned a salary of $145,220.08 during the 2015-16 school year, according to district records.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes