Friday, December 12, 2003

Something Really Does Stink In Pinellas County, Florida

Sorry, but everything I see coming from Florida: the egregious rulings of Judge Greer, the topsy-turvy rulings of the Appellate courts, the lamentable lack of investigation into the circumstances of Terri's injuries, leads me to believe that it is a cesspool of corruption.

And now, outrageously, a disabled teacher has been fired in Pinellas County, Florida, almost certainly because of her outspoken support for Terri's right to live. Pinellas County is the same county in which Terri resides in her hospice. It's the same county which has on it's circuit bench Judges Greer and Baird. It's the same place in which death-dealing attorney George Felos has his practice.

CNS News reports:
Rus Cooper-Dowda told Wednesday morning that the Pinellas County School Board voted six-to-one to fire her Tuesday night, citing "job perforrmance" as the reason. The veteran teacher claims she was terminated in retaliation for sharing her opinion about the Schiavo case in response to a reporter's question.

Rus Cooper-Dowda is disabled herself, and has written eloquently about Terri's case. At one time she was in a similar situation to Terri's:
At age 30, the teacher contracted a severe case of lupus that left her unable to speak and with very little control over her motor functions. She listened helplessly as doctors incorrectly diagnosed her as being in a Persistent Vegetative State, the same condition some physicians believe afflicts Terri, and described her chances for recovery as "hopeless."

"I could hear all that," Cooper-Dowda recalled. "It took a huge effort to finally communicate, 'I'm in here!' And I barely survived."

Though she could not speak, Cooper-Dowda would use her finger to write the word "no" in the air when doctors discussed removing her life support. Those same doctors diagnosed her attempts to communicate as "seizure activity" and sedated her. According to Cooper-Dowda, the harder she tried to communicate with her caretakers, the more heavily she was sedated.

The curiosity of one nurse saved Cooper-Dowda's life, she said.

"She refused to believe that the systematic pattern of tapping and blinking and moving and moaning was not communication," Cooper-Dowda recalled. "So, when I went to Terri Schiavo's October 2002 hearing ... I saw the videos for the first time and I was writing about it and I thought, 'That could have been me,' and then I thought, 'Oh, it was me!'"

Cooper-Dowda's firing seems to follow a little too closely her remarks made to a reporter about the Terri Schiavo case:
I did a very brief interview, offsite, on my own time, not identifying as a teacher, where I said, 'As a disabled Floridian of faith, female, with disabilities, this is scary,'" Cooper-Dowda explained. "And I was really clear that 'you cannot say I am a teacher' and the reporter was disappointed because I teach special ed[ucation], but agreed."

But, unknown to her, many of her students were watching the news that evening, and the word of her appearance spread quickly. At a faculty meeting the next day she heard, among other things, that she didn't "fit in", that teachers "with public opinions like that don't fit in." She was also labelled a "religious wacko" by some of her colleagues and superiors. She was told by her principal, various teachers, etc. that "Teachers aren't allowed to have opinions, especially about Terri Schiavo, and especially if you're already a seminary grad[uate]".

Things really got bad, she said, when some copies of a booklet she had written about Terri Schiavo appeared on campus.
After that I couldn't get the most accepted basic support like needed room supplies, memos about meetings, campus police help when any of my kids needed to be removed for violence or assistance for students hurting themselves regularly," Cooper-Dowda alleged. "Finally, I was given less than a day to hand deliver a resignation for 'personal reasons' or be fired for 'not fitting in.'"

She is contemplating legal action against the school board, but, unless she can mount a federal case, she'll have to bring it before the judges of Pinellas County. Any guesses as to the likelihood of her getting justice there?