A high school teacher in rural Mathews County, Va., complained yesterday that he is losing his job because several parents objected when he assigned his history students to read "Brave New World," Aldous Huxley's novel about life in a godless, materialistic future.
School officials in the county 125 miles south of Washington deny that their decision against renewing the contract of teacher L. Stuart Gibbs Jr. had anything to do with the 1932 book. But they acknowledge that before Gibbs assigned the book they warned him it might lead to his dismissal.
"The whole thing is so asinine," said Gibbs, 33, after the school board refused on Thursday to renew his teaching contract for next year.
He said that since last week, when school Superintendent Gray W. Bradford told him he would not be retained, school officials have refused to give him a reason for the decision.
"The whole thing is so obvious," said Gibbs. "It seems a strange coincidence that they will give me no reason for my nonrenewal and this book is such a controversy."
Said Superintendent Bradford: "Definitely, my decision was not based on the book."
"This is a very difficult situation," said Mathews County High School principal Harry Ward, who recommended that Gibbs not be retained. "We don't think that what he is bringing up is the issue."
School officals insist that state law prohibits them from saying why they are getting rid of Gibbs, who has taught 11th grade American history courses at the school for two years.
The issue has become a focus of interest in this normally sleepy county of 8,000 residents that borders Chesapeake Bay north of Newport News.
Two copies of the controversial book are available in the school library, and Gibbs says the book was used without incident in the county school system during the 1960s. But when he assigned it in March to 85 11th grade history students, Gibbs said, the parents of three students complained to school officials about the book's sexual and religious references.
Gibbs said the officials called him in. "I was told that I could not require this assignment, and that if I did, I would be dismissed," said Vibbs, who has a master's degree in education from the University of Virginia.
Gibbs assigned "Brave New World" anyway, he says, "because the book is a classic. It's a social commentary and it's very appropriate in this day."
The Virginia Education Association has provided Gibbs with a lawyer, and a VEA spokesman said yesterday that the teachers' group is considering legal action against the county school board, which denies Gibb's claim that he is entitled to tenure.
Gibbs was the only this year not to have his contract renewed. "It's not the customary practice (not to renew)," Bradford said. "You normally try to be sure that the people you bring in won't have to have this happen."
"Generally, people will resign when they get the picture," high school principal Ward said.