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Vegan teacher May Lose His Job

Vegan Teacher May Lose His Job
By Jeff Long and Carolyn Starks, September 7, 2007

Dave Warwak has taught art at Fox River Grove Middle School for eight years, and for most of that time, he was happy to eat meatloaf, hot dogs or whatever else the cafeteria workers dished out.

But in January he became a vegan and started spreading the word about the benefits of a meatless diet to students at the McHenry County school. He even built an exhibit out of candy that depicted animals in cages and as road kill.

On Thursday, Warwak said his crusade might cost him his job. He said he was told to stay away from class this week by administrators he described as "ardent meat-eaters. "

Warwak, of Williams Bay, Wis., near Lake Geneva, said he is scheduled to meet with Fox River Grove District 3 officials Monday about the discussions he's had in class about vegetarianism, which excludes meats, and veganism, which excludes meats and other animal products such as milk. Officials asked him to leave the school Tuesday because he refused to stop talking about the harms humans cause animals, he said.

Principal Tim Mahaffy declined to comment Thursday, calling the dispute a personnel issue. He would not discuss issues raised by Warwak or verify the teacher's version of events.

The candy display came down after three days, when Mahaffy decided it was too much of a "PETA advertisement, " Warwak said. The battle over diet lessons resumed this week after Warwak distributed the book "The Food Revolution" to his 8th-grade students and talked to his classes about vegetarianism.

"It's probably one of the most life-changing books a person can read," Warwak said of the book, written by John Robbins and subtitled, "How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and the World."

"It's about how we're destroying the planet with pollution from factory farming," Warwak said. "It's about health. It's about living longer."

Neither the American Civil Liberties Union nor the Illinois Education Association had an opinion on the case, but Warwak drew support from animal rights advocates.

"We believe that in a time when there's so much violence, especially in schools, that teachers who show kindness and compassion for all life should be commended," said Nathan Runkle, executive director of the Chicago-based Mercy for Animals advocacy group, which lobbies against factory farms.

"It's appropriate for students to learn about the horrendous cruelty that animals endure on factory farms, and about the benefits of a healthy diet."

Runkle said his group plans to write a letter to the school in support of Warwak.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, is giving Warwak its "Compassionate Educator" award, vice president Bruce Friedrich said. The group is also sending the school a letter in support of the teacher.

Warwak, meanwhile, sees no problem discussing the topic he cares about passionately during art classes.

"It's art in every way," he said. "Art is something different for everyone...Art is like philosophy."

District 3 Supt. Jacqueline Krause was out of the office Thursday and unavailable for comment. Warwak, who said he makes $55,000 per year, said he feels a responsibility to warn his students about the dangers of what he calls an unhealthy diet and to open their minds to new ideas.

"I'm telling kids, 'Don't believe everything you see and everything you read,'" he said. "I'm trying to get them curious enough to check things out for themselves."

Your letter of support can be forwarded to Jeff Long, the reporter.

and to Dave:

Dave's very cool website:

Robert Cohen
http://www.notmilk. com

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