There are many teachers in Fairfax County Public Schools, I among them, who would like to see the teaching profession upgraded. At the same time, however, we are apprehensive about Superintendent Spillane's new performance evaluation system, which eventually will be linked to merit pay, as a means to achieve a more attractive profession. Central to our concern is the subjective nature of the evaluation process.

Now comes the case, reported in The Post Sept. 20, of Donald Seemuller, a physical education teacher at Lake Braddock High School who wrote a satirical letter for the school newspaper. The negative reaction to the letter among community members, teachers and students was used by the school's principal, George Stepp, as the basis for Mr. Seemuller's low performance rating. A low rating not only means that the recipient must take positive action to improve his performance (it has always meant that) but now, for the first time, a person receiving a low rating is denied any sort of pay increase.

"Bravo!" you say. "Someone who is judged to be only marginally competent should receive no pay increase." And I agree. In this case, however, Mr. Stepp has not only affirmed the quality of Mr. Seemuller's classroom performance, but has also acknowledged reviewing the offensive letter prior to its publication and having made no effort to confer with Mr. Seemuller about its potential as a cause for disruption. In other words, the standards used to evaluate Mr. Seemuller were invented and applied ex post facto. No evaluation system can be successful when standards are defined at the caprice of evaluators. This is the precise defect in the new system that worries so many of us.

In this case, Dr. Spillane, in order to defend Mr. Stepp's action, has taken refuge in the "clear and present danger" test of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. We should all, I suppose, be grateful to Dr. Spillane and Mr. Stepp for themselves violating the Holmesian test. For they have yelled "Fire!" in that crowded Theater of the Absurd which Fairfax County's new Performance Evaluation System could easily become. We who teach in the county should heed their warning.



I found the comments by Superintendent Spillane regarding the freezing of a Fairfax County teacher's pay for his "sexist" letter most ironic. Dr. Spillane says, "Free speech, as Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, does not include the right to yell 'Fire!' in a crowded theater."

Yet, what shall we say of individuals who gag the mouths of those who trustfully warn us of actual fires? In fact, Dr. Spillane is seeking to fire educator Carol Gratchen on account of her religious interactions with students during after-school hours.

It is time to acknowledge that it is not unconstitutional for young people to assemble and discuss religion on public property with each other or adults. If we interpret the Constitution according to the Framers' intent, this is clear; or if we interpret the Constitution according to the law of justice, goodness and liberty, this is also evident.

Many young people are burning inside -- with anger, lust and emptiness. Fairfax County schools cannot extinguish these fires, but they should not fan the flame of secularism.