November 9, 1996, News, by Tim Bryant,Post Dispatch


Former students support teacher Cissy Lacks in her suit against the Ferguson-Florissant schools for firing her.

Reginald McNeary, a senior at Berkeley High School, hung his head in embarrassment Friday when he was reminded of a sexually explicit, profanity-filled poem he wrote as a freshman in Cissy Lacks' English class.

But the assignment awakened something inside, the young man said, a desire to continue writing and to participate in class. His other work later won a schoolwide writing contest.

McNeary testified Friday on behalf of Lacks, a former Berkeley High teacher who is suing the Ferguson-Florissant School District for firing her last year. The district's board voted in March 1995 to fire Lacks over raw language her students used in an 11th-grade creative writing assignment in 1994.

Lacks' detractors have pointed to McNeary's poem, which described oral sex, as an example of unacceptable profanity in Lacks' classes.

But McNeary said Lacks' encouragement sparked an interest in writing.

Before getting Lacks' poetry assignment, English class "was boring and I didn't like to write," McNeary said. After Lacks explained that rap is "like modern-day poetry," McNeary began writing. Had Lacks condemned his first poem, he probably would have stopped going to class, he said. Her support prompted him to do better, he said.

Trial in Lacks' suit against the school district began this week in U.S. District Court. Testimony was expected to continue for at least another week.

Also testifying for Lacks on Friday was Lee Falk, a free-lance writer and a former journalism student of Lacks' when she taught at McCluer High School, also in the Ferguson-Florissant district.

Falk, a 1978 graduate of McCluer, said that Lacks gave student reporters free range in coming up with stories but that she expected them to know the responsibilities of producing a newspaper.

"No other teacher had given us such confidence," said Falk, who lives in Webster Groves.