Walled Lake teacher fired after 'liberals' tweet rejected offer for job back

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A Walled Lake teacher fired after tweeting about President Donald Trump and "liberals" was offered his job back a day after his story went viral, but declined the offer on the belief that "the issue would follow him into the classroom."

Justin Kucera, a 28-year-old social studies teacher at Walled Lake Western High School, wasn't fired for a tweet supporting President Donald Trump but for a reply that later was deleted saying, "liberals suck man," according to a copy of the teacher's personnel file obtained through a public records request. 

Kucera's official reason for termination was "a lack of professional judgement," according to a July 17 termination letter that followed two Zoom meetings in which he was asked about his July 6 tweets about the president and liberals. 

Justin Kucera

Kucera did not return a call and text seeking comment. 

The July 10 and July 15 Zoom meetings were not recorded, but accounts from two employees who attended the meetings indicate that Kucera said he was attempting to be sarcastic when he wrote "Liberals suck man." He took the post down when he realized "that sarcasm does not come across well on Twitter."

Kucera recognized such a tweet could make at least "50%" of students upset and said he wanted to apologize to Walled Lake Consolidated Schools District Superintendent Ken Gutman and Walled Lake Western High School Principal Ali Hamka, according to the accounts  of the Zoom meetings included in Kucera's personnel file. Neither Gutman nor Hamka were in attendance at the meeting. 

Kucera was given the chance to resign July 15 with a "neutral letter of recommendation," as well as uncontested unemployment and health benefits through the end of August, according to the personnel file. 

When Kucera declined to resign, he was terminated July 17, with benefits ending July 30. 

After speaking to the conservative Washington Free Beacon July 20, Kucera's story went viral as the social studies teacher claimed his firing was in retaliation for supporting Trump. The school district at that time denied his support for Trump was the reason for his termination.

Gutman, the superintendent, reached out to and met with Kucera July 22 after exploring ways "we may be able to save this relatively new teacher's career while administering some other form of discipline less than termination," according to Kucera's file.

Gutman noted in a summary of the meeting that Kucera had a previous incident of "poor judgement" and was still in his probationary period. But the superintendent told Kucera he "would be able to return" with the caveat that he may have to admit to wrongdoing, receive a suspension without pay or transfer to a different school. 

On June 23, Kucera thanked Gutman for the offer but said "he felt that he could not return as the issue would follow him into the classroom."

"When I asked him whether or not he knew that it was the Liberals Suck tweet and not the Trump is President tweet that was the issue, he admitted that he did," Gutman wrote. 

Attached to Kucera's personnel file are nearly a dozen emails that parents and current and former students sent the school district last month concerning Kucera's tweets. 

Most expressed concern about Kucera's public expression of his political leanings and whether the beliefs could lead to biased lessons in the classroom. Others took issue with the teacher's support of Trump and his disparagement of liberals, couching those views as affronts to students of color. 

A former student said it was shocking and disgusting "to see a teacher who teaches students about nazis and fascism express support for a fascist to the hundreds of Walled Lake Western students and other people who are able to see his account," according to a copy of the email. 

“A vote for Trump is a vote for white supremacy and it is despicable to see a teacher from my school support such a horrid man and set this precedent for his students," the former student said. 

An incoming junior in an email to school administrators said "being a republican does involve his views being racist, homophobic, zenophobic and so much more."

A parent expressed concern about what impact his statements would have on the classroom. 

“I CERTAINLY hope this sort of political indoctrination does NOT extend to his lesson plans," the parent wrote. "His young adult students should be encouraged to develop their own political beliefs and positions based on information that Mr. Kucera is providing his students. Not because of his late-night rantings.”