Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Topsail High teacher suspended for optional political assignment, online petition says

William “Hill” Pearsall, an educator and volleyball coach, was suspended Friday. A petition claims he was punished for a voluntary lesson to help students identify their political beliefs. (Port City Daily/Pender County Schools)

Update: Just after 8 p.m. Monday, school district spokesperson Bob Fankboner informed local media that Pearsall is returning to work Tuesday. “Because this involves personnel, Pender County Schools will not discuss specifics of the matter,” he added.

PENDER COUNTY –– An online petition circulating on social media is rapidly garnering support for a long-time Topsail High social studies teacher who was recently suspended by Pender County Schools.

According to the page, William “Hill” Pearsall, an educator and volleyball coach, was handed down the punishment Friday after he led a “principal-approved” and voluntary lesson to help students identify their political beliefs.

Pender County Schools confirmed Pearsall was suspended but declined to comment on the nature or length of the penalty, citing that it is a personnel concern.

The petition asserts students were asked to complete an optional Pew Research Center questionnaire, the “Political Typology Quiz.” It was not collected for grading and results would remain confidential. Students who participated were asked to respond to a prompt: “Is your placement on the political spectrum where you thought it would be?” the petition claims. The page also states “unsolicited and informal” discourse ensued between students following the assignment.

The quiz, linked within the petition, asks a series of questions, beginning with, “Which of the following statements comes closest to your view?” and then offers two possible responses. Topics range from whether the government should regulate business to if environmental protections are worth the cost.

It also touches on sensitive subjects, making users choose between: “Racial discrimination is the main reason why many black people can’t get ahead these days” and “Black people who can’t get ahead in this country are mostly responsible for their own condition.” Another question asks whether society should accept or discourage homosexuality.

After a parent complained, Pearsall issued an apology to parents and students for any confusion.

The page calls on the school board to reinstate Pearsall following his suspension. Within 13 hours of being posted, it had more than 2,300 signatures. Over 3,200 names were accumulated by the 19th hour.

Pender County Schools confirmed Pearsall was suspended with pay from teaching and coaching for the first time in his nearly 26-year career, during which he also stepped in as interim athletic director from December 2014 through June 2015. He began coaching junior and varsity volleyball in 2009. According to the online petition, he recently announced his retirement from the coaching position, spending the year finishing out his last season with the teams.

“The actions of the Board of Education have severely impacted both his students, who are preparing for their AP exams, as well as his players, who are left without his guidance in their final week of conference play,” the petition states.

The district’s spokesperson shared the following statement:

“We are aware of the online petition and the rights of citizens to express their feelings, which we welcome as part of the public comment portion of the Pender County Board of Education meetings whether in person or by leaving a statement by calling 910-663-3501.”

Port City Daily reached out to the five school board members. This article will be updated if and when the elected officials respond.

It is not clear on what grounds Pearsall was suspended. The petition claims he was found in violation of one of the permitted reasonings under state statute, which includes “failure to comply with such reasonable requirements as the board may prescribe.”

Reached Monday morning, Pearsall told Port City Daily he was advised by former students in the law field to not comment to the press at this point. On Friday he shared a graphic on his personal Facebook that reads, “Thou shalt not think.”

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Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at or on Twitter @alexsands_

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