Classroom discussion about birth control lands a teacher in trouble

By: Melissa Randall


Students in Pawtucket held a rally after school Tuesday to support a popular teacher who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. The students say the teacher, Bill Ashton, who has a history of clashing with school officials, was un–fairly put on administrative leave after a classroom discussion on birth control.

The incident apparently happened in a 10th grade American lit class last week. They were learning about the Puritans, when the topic turned to sex and birth control. The discussion apparently made one student so uncomfortable her peers say she hasn’t been back since.

Holding signs that read: ‘don’t censor my education’ and ‘ignorance is inappropriate’ the group of students from the JM Walsh School let district officials have it.

“I feel that unless someone speaks up no one is going to hear our voice and the superintendent did tell us to hold off on protesting until we know what’s going on, but for me, I know what’s going on,” said Isabelle Long, a sophomore who was in the class in question.

The students are upset after they say Ashton was put on administrative leave over a lesson that’s taught every single year. The class was reading ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne, a story of a woman charged with adultery, when the conversation turned to sex.

“We were talking about William Bradford and the Virginians and I asked a simple question about if there was any birth control used back then. I didn’t feel like it was an inappropriate question,” explained Layla Vafiadis, also a sophomore who was in the class.

The students say Mr. Ashton repeatedly tried to steer them away from the topic. The group is now worried that their prodding and thirst for knowledge got him in trouble.

Neither school officials nor the teachers union are commenting on the incident saying it’s a personnel matter. But ABC6 has reported on Ashton before during another clash with the administration. In March he was suspended with pay after he allegedly told students they could opt–out of the PARCC exam.

Even after meeting with the superintendent the group of students says they are on Ashton’s side.

“I don’t view her [Superintendent Patti DiCenso] as the bad guy. I know this is not her fault, but I do just want my teacher back,” said Vafiadis.

Several parents who attended the protest, and who have students in the class in question, tell ABC6 News that Mr. Ashton is a good teacher, and in their opinion the lesson was appropriate.

© WLNE-TV 2015