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Ohio principal defends political field trip

/ Source: The Associated Press

An Ohio principal suspended over a field trip to an elections office said students were given only Democratic literature because a Republican campaign worker declined to provide it.

Virginia Rhodes, principal of Hughes High School, was suspended for at least two weeks with pay after students were taken to the Hamilton County Board of Elections on Oct. 13, shown how to vote and given Democratic sample ballots.

The teacher who took the students on the trip, Dennis McFadden, had a disciplinary hearing Wednesday, and a Cincinnati Public Schools spokeswoman said she expected an announcement before the end of the day on whether any action will be taken against him. The district said in a statement Monday that it was looking into "possible violations of district policies and practices."

A message was left at the school Thursday for McFadden. His home phone number was not immediately available.

Rhodes said in a statement posted online by local media that McFadden is being unfairly targeted and disciplining him would send a "chilling message" to all teachers. A Democratic campaign worker distributed the literature, failing to disclose a partisan role, and the teacher had no control over poll workers, Rhodes said.

An anti-tax group known as the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, or COAST, has sued the school district over the field trip and called it "one-sided political activity." The coalition said the trip violated a 2002 agreement reached after an earlier lawsuit against the schools over equal access in a school levy campaign.

Tom Brinkman Jr., the coalition's co-founder and a former Republican state representative who was running for county auditor, said a GOP worker was at the polling place but didn't have a sample Republican ballot and couldn't have legally handed students campaign literature within polling place boundaries.

Brinkman said students "were seen coming off the bus with the Democratic sample ballots."

"The main point is that the Cincinnati schools have become very politicized, and all that political activity is for one party and it's the Democrats," Brinkman said.

A message left for the Hamilton County Republican Party chairman wasn't immediately returned.

Tim Burke, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, said he was had no knowledge of the trip until after it occurred.

"What I have heard is that the sample ballots were passed out outside the board that day, just like they could be passed out to any voter coming to the board at that time," Burke said. "The Republicans could have done the same thing."