A 40-Year Teaching Career Ending After Trump/Hitler Comparison in Mountain View

Frank Navarro has taught history and special education at Mountain View High School for 40 years. (Beth Willon/KQED)

After teaching history and special education at Mountain View High School for 40 years, Frank Navarro can barely get the words out of his mouth. They came haltingly, in fits and starts.

"I will not be coming back, and it's very hard for me to say that," Navarro said. "I love this job. I mean, I feel like I can learn something from it every day."

Navarro said he's retiring in June because the Mountain View Los Altos High School District showed him little respect by putting him on paid leave on Nov. 10 to investigate a complaint about his world history lesson comparing Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler. Navarro returned to school on Nov. 14 after significant public outrage and a change.org petition calling for his return generated thousands of signatures.

Mountain View Los Altos High School District Superintendent Jeff Harding said the short investigation wasn't about Navarro's Trump/Hitler lesson, but Harding was vague about what he now calls "a series of concerns over numerous weeks before the election."

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"The district had an obligation to pursue various concerns that came to the school administration," Harding said.

Navarro said after he was brought back from leave, Harding privately apologized to him, admitting the situation wasn't handled properly. Navarro wanted a public apology but said Harding would not do it.

Harding said he told Navarro it was an unfortunate circumstance that played out in public but it was not an apology.

"I don't think the district mishandled the situation," said Harding.

Navarro said it all started about three weeks before the Nov. 8 election when he gave a historical lesson on Hitler's rise to power in Germany from 1930 to 1933 and compared it to Donald Trump's platform.

"Adolf Hitler said he'd make Germany great again. Donald Trump said he's going to make America great again," Navarro said. "Hitler focused on the Jews as the great peril of Germany, and Trump focused on the Muslims and talk about a registry and keeping Muslims out of the country."

Navarro is an expert on the Holocaust and has studied at the International Center for the Study of the Holocaust in Jerusalem. The 65-year-old was also named a Mandel Fellow for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

After the lesson, Navarro said the principal came to him and said the parent of a student sent an email and was put off with his Trump/Hitler comparison.

"I told him it would be beneficial to all involved if we sat down and kicked around the history," Navarro said. "We could do it over coffee. I offered to do it with the parent, and I was greeted with silence."

Then, two days after the election, Navarro said he was asked to come to the principal's office with a union representative. At that point Navarro said the assistant superintendent read him the parent's email but wouldn't let him see it.

"The parent said in the email that I said Donald Trump is Hitler and that Trump hates Jews, Mexicans and African-Americans," Navarro said. "And I countered I would never say that because it was sloppy historical thinking."

Navarro said there were also other accusations that he had never heard anything about.

"I was also accused of feeding propaganda to my students and real bias, and then I was quickly informed I was on leave. I was to leave the campus immediately," Navarro said.

Navarro said he was told he would likely be returning to campus the following Wednesday after an investigation, including interviews with students.

At this point, Navarro doesn't believe there was an investigation because the students left school an hour after he left campus and they had Friday off for Veterans Day. He was back on the job Monday after the superintendent called him over the weekend.

But Harding said it didn't  take long to question students or Navarro and that was completed.

Navarro had been considering retiring at one point, but said he was planning to put it off for a couple of years because he loves the exchange with students.

Since the election of Trump, Navarro said these are perilous times for teachers in the classroom.

"I would hope that no teacher self-censors, and I would hope that the administration looks carefully at what is being said before they move on somebody," Navarro said.

It's clear Navarro still loves being in a classroom, and will be a reluctant retiree in June. But he said it's hard for him to accept the lack of respect for his job as a teacher.

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"After 40 years, don't I deserve a little more?" Navarro said.

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