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Teacher says blindness cost him job

Published Sep. 10, 2005

Hillsborough teacher Matthew Brown contends it was his blindness, not his teaching ability, that lost him a valued job at King High School two years ago.

Had school officials considered his skills, the teacher believes, he would have kept his job as a teacher of children with emotional problems.

Instead, the school refused to renew his contract, saying he was a poor classroom manager.

So Brown filed a discrimination complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last November. The commission ruled in his favor and mandated negotiations with the district.

The talks failed, and this week Brown filed suit in U.S. District Court against the Hillsborough School Board and King Principal Richard Bartels, claiming he was discriminated against because of his disability.

Brown was hired last year to teach at Hillsborough High School in a similar position.

Brown's attorney, Craig Berman, said it was unfortunate that the school district "did not recognize what an excellent teacher Matthew is. They were blinded by his disability to his enormous abilities."

School spokesman Mark Hart declined to comment.

Brown was born blind in his right eye and with limited sight in his left eye. After earning a master's degree at the University of South Florida to teach emotionally handicapped children, he was hired into a temporary teaching position at King High in 1998.

According to the suit, Brown %% WARNING %%was told the position would become permanent as soon as he completed an internship program at USF. But after completing the program halfway through the school year, Brown was informed he would not be rehired.

Brown is seeking punitive damages, training for district employees in the hiring and retention of disabled employees, and back pay from the year he was without a job.

_ Melanie Ave covers education and can be reached at (813) 226-3400.