ABSTRACT # 1: Up in Smoke

Wanda DeVane

Graduate Student

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Email: wdevane@email.unc.edu


Constitutional crusader Sherry Hearn, a social studies teacher with 27 years teaching experience, was fired from the Savannah-Chatham County School System in Georgia when a half-smoked marijuana joint was found in her car during a routine drug search at Windsor Forest High School. When confronted about the marijuana by the school's principal, Mrs. Hearn denied the drugs were hers. She also explained that "one of her electric windows in her car was not working and was stuck open; anyone could have stashed the pot there." (Lindsay, 1997, p. 2) After central-office administrators had been contacted to confirm the proper procedures to be enforced, Sherry Hearn was immediately suspended and was required to take a drug test within two hours.

Ms. Hearn had previously argued vehemently against drug testing and searches because she considered them unconstitutional. She felt that her current circumstances provided an opportunity for her to fight for what she believed in. She initially refused to have the test performed. However, thirty hours after the marijuana was discovered, Sherry reluctantly took a drug test on the advice of two attorneys. The test results were negative. Despite the negative test results, presentation of several character references and awards, including Savannah Teacher of the Year, and 27 years teaching experience, the school board voted 5 to 1 to terminate her. One board member characterized Hearn's behavior as "naked insubordination." The board's president added, "It came down to the board feeling very strongly about our drug-free workplace policy. If an employee faced a reasonable suspicion of drug use and was allowed to say, 'I'm not taking the test,' we would never be able to enforce the policy again." (Lindsay, 1997, p.16)


Many would agree with the board member that referred to Sherry Hearn's stand as "naked insubordination." According to the 1988 edition of the New Webster's Dictionary one definition of naked is to be "open to view; mere, bare, simple." According to the same source, insubordination is "the act of not submitting to authority; riotous." By the mere combination of the definitions, the phrase "naked insubordination" seems to correctly define Hearn's actions.

Is that all that her actions symbolize? In comparison to other implications from her actions, is naked insubordination that important?

Our schools teach and glorify American freedom, but seek "to regulate every aspect of the student's life." (Wirt & Kirst, 1992, p. 47) Is the Hearn drug issue another example of American schools attempting to drive "organizations toward stabilization and regularity?" (Wirt & Kirst, 1992, p. 47) When it comes to American schools and/or constitutional rights we fail to "live the life we preach/teach about." Because of this conflict, many high school students "turn off" education. They see it as meaningless and inapplicable to their lives. If more instances similar to the Hearn case continue to occur in today's schools, more students will dismiss education and educators as unrealistic, unnecessary, and useless in the real world.


Kirst, M.W., & Wirt, F.M. (1992). Schools in Conflict (3rd ed.). California: McCutchan.

Lindsay, D. (1997) Up in Smoke. [On-line} Available: http://www.edweek.org/tm/current/04drug.h08