Bishop O'Connell students protest firing of history teacher

At least 150 students showed up for the protest on Thursday. (Photo: Ben Eisler)

The firing of a beloved teacher at Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington has sparked an uprising, and on Thursday, nearly 150 students made their voices heard in support of former teacher John Harrison.

Harrison says he was fired to bring in two younger, less-expensive replacements, and he plans to file an age discrimination lawsuit. The former Army infantry officer who earned a Purple Heart in Vietnam became an extremely successful trial lawyer, but his dream was always to be a high school Social Studies teacher.

That dream was realized, then came to a sudden end.

"I've always wanted to be a high school history teacher and that's all I want to be until I can't work anymore," Harrison said. "It was hard to describe how much fun it was to go to work in the morning."

He says that the way he and other teachers were treated by what he calls an "autocratic" principal is outrageous. It led to a vocal protest by dozens of Bishop O'Connell students and Facebook pages numbering thousands of supporters.

"Part of the reason I'm going to college is because of Mr. Harrison," student Armando Ouilando said. "It was one class that I went home and shared what I learned that day."

In response, Bishop O'Connell officials said they could not discuss individual personnel matters. In a statement, they said that they understand the difficulty of change, but they acknowledge that change must occur so that the school can flourish.

Harrison said he has not encouraged the students to rise against the school's administration; then again, he hasn't tried to quell it, either, saying that the latter would go against everything he has taught his students.

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