What tenure, unionism meant to a blind man

The recent death of retired Poughkeepsie School District Teachers Association member Bruce Bevan raises a powerful story of tenure. A student of public schools in Hyde Park, Bevan went on to earn his B.A in Education from SUNY New Paltz and then became a teacher in Poughkeepsie. But then, in the early ’70s, he lost his eyesight. As if this loss was not disarming enough, he was  forced to leave his job and could not return for the start of the 1972-73 school year.

With his union behind him, Bevan endured a challenging legal battle, all while learning to cope with blindness and the loss of a job that he felt was his self-identity.

In 1973, State Supreme Court Justice Harold Hughes ruled that the Poughkeepsie Board of Education had to reinstate Bevan because he had been denied due process – thus declaring “unconstitutional the State Education Law’s section that authorized involuntary retirements of tenured teachers without a hearing; upheld the Education Law’s Section 3004, which allows handicapped people to teach in New York; and ordered Bevan reinstated with full back pay,” according to the NYSUT publication at the time, New York Teacher.

It was a thunderous victory.

The school board appealed.

In 1974, Justice Lawrence Cook at the Appellate Division ruled that a tenured teacher who became blind could not be placed on disability retirement against his will, unless his incompetence for duty had been established at a prior hearing.

Bevan was thus cleared to return to the classroom in the fall of 1974. Ironically, an operation that summer restored his sight. He told the New York Teacher that he would be teaching a unit on blindness “to explode myths about the handicapped.”  Coping with blindness taught him a new kind of order, he said, which was a valuable classroom technique he was eager to share with students. He also shared his enthusiasm about learning not to waste the senses, expressing excitement about helping students “reawaken their sense of discovery.”

Bevan advised teachers “… not to be afraid to stand up when they know they’re right and they’ve got a great organization to back them. The best insurance policy you’ll ever take out in your entire life will be the (union) dues you pay to your organization.”

Bevan taught for 30 years. He also had a career in radio and TV and, after retiring,  scheduled events for the Poughkeepsie arts and theater council before to North Carolina.

How wonderful that he was able to keep his deserved career, one in which he had so much enthusiasm and knowledge to share with students. How wonderful that he carried forward, in his life, a personal demonstration of not letting the temporary loss of his eyesight deter him. And how, even in death, he remains a testament to the power of a union protecting the rights of workers.

One Comment

  1. Karen Bevan March 10, 2015 at 12:11 pm #

    He was a very principled, determined person whose legacy continues to benefit educators. Thank you for the very timely recap of his fight so long ago.

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