News: CJ Exclusives

Gay Seminar Teacher Fired

Was investigated for misconduct with 17-year-old student

The woman who co-taught the controversial “New Gay Teenager” seminar at last year’s N.C. Governor’s School in Winston-Salem has been removed from her position at East Forsyth High School, and will surrender her teaching license.

Susan Wiseman was the subject of an investigation by Winston-Salem police because of alleged sexual misconduct with a 17-year-old female pupil, but was not charged with any crimes because the student did not want to take legal action. But Tuesday night the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education voted unanimously to end Wiseman’s contract at the end of the school year. She is on an unpaid leave of absence for the remainder of this year.

Wiseman taught social studies at East Forsyth for four years, and would have become tenured had she been hired for next year.

The school board acted because Wiseman violated an administrative regulation for “prohibited relationships in the workplace.” The code says “all employees are prohibited from dating, courting or entering into a romantic or sexual relationship with any student who is enrolled in a Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School where the employee is assigned, regardless of the student’s age. Employees engaging in such inappropriate conduct will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal.”

Wiseman also co-taught, along with 19-year-old UNC-Greensboro student Wesley Nemenz, a seminar based on a book called “The New Gay Teenager,” given at the Governor’s School West last year. The six-week residential program is held every summer, and draws “intellectually gifted” public high school students who are approaching their senior years, and who are nominated by their high schools’ teachers and administrators. The state budget fully funds the program, with $1.3 million set aside for it this fiscal year.

The seminar was heavily criticized by James and Beverly Burrows, whose son attended the Governor’s School last year. They said their son returned home from the school “confused” about homosexuality as a result of the seminar, and they accused the Governor’s School of having a “pro-homosexual agenda.” The Department of Public Instruction and Governor’s School officials defended the seminar, saying it was optional for students to attend, as is the Governor’s School itself.

Wiseman, according to Winston-Salem/Forsyth Schools spokesman Theo Helm, did not admit or deny the allegations. A police source last month said the Governor’s School was part of the investigation into Wiseman, but school and law enforcement officials couldn’t confirm that the 17-year-old student attended Governor’s School. The alleged sexual relationship occurred between February and May 2005, before Governor’s School began in June.

Wiseman was also a youth coordinator for the Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG)-Winston-Salem. One gay activist who has worked with her in the Triad and said he knows her well, Matt Hill Comer, refused to believe she was guilty of the allegations.

“I don’t have any evidence that she did it,” Comer said. “If she is innocent, this has totally ruined her career.”

He said the gay community in Winston-Salem has a history of run-ins with the county school board.

Vanessa Jeter, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Instruction, said if Wiseman surrendered her license she would be ineligible to teach anywhere in North Carolina. Helm said the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education will request that DPI forbid Wiseman from ever re-applying for a license again.

Paul Chesser ([email protected]) is associate editor of Carolina Journal.