March 7 2006 Denver Post
Governor praises student who taped criticism of Bush
He says he's surprised by the backlash against the teen and says the
teacher should have balanced his lesson.
By Robert Sanchez and Chris Frates
Denver Post Staff Writers
Gov. Bill Owens praised the Overland High School student who taped and
then made public a teacher's classroom criticism of President Bush's
foreign policy, saying Monday that the teenager has been unfairly targeted
Speaking on a radio show, Owens said the Cherry Creek School District is
properly handling an investigation into the recording of teacher Jay
Bennish by one of his geography students, Sean Allen, 16.
"What's interesting to me is the backlash" against Allen, Owens said on
"The Mike Rosen Show" on 850 KOA-AM, adding that Bennish would now have to
"defend himself to the people that pay his salary."
Bennish's attorney, David Lane, said Monday that it isn't surprising the
governor spoke out against Bennish, considering that Owens called "for the
state to punish Ward Churchill" and supported an amendment to require the
Pledge of Allegiance.
"The governor has demonstrated a lack of knowledge about the First
Amendment for many, many years," Lane said. He "has a First Amendment
right to say whatever he wants."
The district will complete its investigation today or Wednesday, Cherry
Creek schools spokeswoman Tustin Amole said. Bennish was placed on
administrative leave last week.
Amole said investigators want to speak with him one last time before
concluding their investigation into whether he violated policy on teaching
Lane said the district plans to tell Bennish the results of its
investigation at noon Wednesday. Lane said he expects Bennish to be back
in the classroom Thursday.
In the 20-minute recording made on an MP3 device, Bennish said there were
"eerie similarities" between what Bush said during his recent State of the
Union address and "things that Adolf Hitler used to say." He also said
capitalism is "at odds with human rights."
At the end of the recording, Bennish said, "I'm not in any way implying
that you should agree with me."
Students said the teacher has strong support and that Allen has become a
target, even though the teen has not returned to school since the
recording was made public.
"Everybody's mad" at Allen, said Phil Tekle, a 17-year-old junior who had
a geography class with Bennish as a freshman. "People are saying that if
they see him, they want to beat him up. I think that's just talk, though."
In interviews with nearly a dozen current and former Bennish students,
teenagers told The Denver Post that the 28-year-old teacher wanted an open
forum in his classroom and conducted good-hearted debates with his
students. Bennish often criticized the president, they said.
"A lot (of the students) weren't used to having a teacher who was so in
your face, but they got used to it and everyone opened up after that,"
said Devin Walecka, 18, who attends college and was Bennish's teaching
assistant last school year. "He was very provocative, and he was fine if
you didn't agree with him."
Jasmine Meadows, 16, said Bennish allowed students in her history class to
leave the room if they didn't agree with the direction that discussions
were heading. No one left, she said.
"I agree with him sometimes, and the other times, I just ignore him," the
high school junior said. "You could say what you wanted to say in his
Lane said Bennish has received an "endless amount of death threats and
hate mail" but planned to talk to NBC's "Today" show this morning in New
Allen, too, had a TV appearance scheduled Monday night on the Fox News
program "Hannity & Colmes." The teen said Monday that he intends to
transfer to a different school.
For his part, Owens said Bennish should have presented both sides of the
argument on Bush's policies.
"I'll bet that you don't have Mr. Bennish balancing later in the day
talking about the good things that the United States is doing in Iraq,
discussing why George Bush is not similar to Adolf Hitler," the governor
said. "I'll bet there just aren't any tapes from any student of Mr.
Bennish giving that other side."
Staff writers Jennifer Brown and Karen Rouse contributed to this report.
Staff writer Robert Sanchez can be reached at 303-820-1282 or