A high school science teacher at Grand Arts High School in Los Angeles was suspended from the classroom in February, after two of his science fair students turned in projects deemed dangerous by the administrators.
Greg Schiller teaches AP biology and psychology at the school--formerly known as Ramon C. Cortines School for Visual and Performing Arts. He said he’s been overseeing science fairs for 15 years—and was surprised when two projectile motion projects were flagged and confiscated before he had a chance to grade them.
One project was a marshmallow shooter—which uses air pressure to launch projectiles. The other was an AA battery-powered coil gun—which uses electromagnetism to launch small objects. Similar projects have been honored in past LA County Science Fairs and even demonstrated at the White House.
Schiller said Los Angeles Unified School District officials accused him of “supervising the building, research and development of imitation weapons.” He has been reporting to a district administrative office since March 6, as he waits for LAUSD to conclude its investigation.
Grand Arts High School officials did not respond to requests for comment on Schiller’s suspension.
LAUSD communications director Thomas Waldman issued the following statement:
"There is an ongoing investigation, therefore, we cannot comment. It is the practice of the Los Angeles Unified School District to reassign an employee to a non-classroom setting when there are allegations related to student safety. We will always err on the side of protecting students. On the other hand, the District does not reassign employees on a whim. The reassignment of employees is taken very seriously. For this reason, there is a rigorous decision making process associated with the reassignment of employees."
Did Greg Schiller act irresponsibly in allowing these projects to be developed on his watch? Do these particular science projects pose serious risks to students? Is it difficult for today’s science teachers to balance scientific inquiry with safety concerns? Do you think school and District administrators went too far?
Greg Schiller, biology and psychology teacher at Grand Arts High School, suspended in February 2014.
Ken Roy, Ph.D., Chief Safety Compliance Consultant for the National Science Teachers Association; Director of environmental health and safety for Glastonbury Public Schools in Connecticut