There was always something fishy about this story, though very ominous. A Maryland teacher was fired and taken in for a psych evaluation as result (it was reported) of a pair of self-published works of science fiction he published in 2011 about school shootings. It led to breathless headlines like:
Granted, if true it creates a terrible precedent. But it was only part of the story. The L.A. Times reports, Mental health issues, not books, led to teacher’s suspension
Reports circulated this weekend that a middle school teacher in Dorchester County, Md., had been placed on administrative leave over his two futuristic novels about school violence. That is not that case, authorities tell the L.A. Times.
“It didn’t start with the books and it didn’t end with the books,” State’s Attorney for Wicomico County Matt Maciarello told The Times. “It’s not even a factor in what law enforcement is doing now.”
Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic updated his post with these details:
“From our perspective, this was more about a health concern about Mr. McLaw than about a security issue,” Maciarello said. Authorities grew concerned about McLaw after he sent a “four-page letter” to a school administrator over the summer. According to Maciarello, the letter contained no threats against schools or school personnel, but that it indicated that McLaw was not mentally sound. “Health care professionals were concerned, he was in a relationship that had just come to an end, he was talking about his mother as being overbearing, there was some thought that he could be a threat to himself.” Based on the “totality of the circumstances,” Maciarello said, McLaw was involuntarily committed for evaluation. Among those circumstances: Authorities said that McLaw had built a model of a school building in his home, and had asked an administrator to move classrooms, to one near the “point of ingress and egress” of the school.
Yes, I too was underwhelmed by that response. I asked Maciarello if the novels McLaw had self-published had been a factor in county decision-making: “The books are a factor,” he said. “You cannot consider the total picture without knowing that he had this book, this other writing. This was very concerning to the administrators. It’s 2014 — you can’t have a person who has mental issues, someone who’s complaining about his mother, complaining about teachers — it’s all taken into totality. It was a very restrained response, actually. We didn’t freak-out because of the books. The main impetus was the four-page letter. It was just out there, you know, it wasn’t something you give to your employer. To quote our health officer, it was a cry for help.” One other thing: “He had some Columbine material at his house.”
I asked for specifics. He said the “Columbine material” consisted of a report on the infamous Colorado school shooting. It could have been meant for research for his novels, I suggested.
“Absolutely, that could be true. We played all the angles on that. You can’t just dismiss every little thing in a situation like this, in 2014.”
It is understandable why there was concern. Overcautious, perhaps, but it doesn’t appear to be a complete overstepping of authority. There are still open questions – Patrick McLaw himself has not come forward – but we are not (yet) living in Fahrenheit 451.
Here are the novels in question (published under a pen name), which now have many 5-star reviews from free speech proponents.