Former Student Apologizes 39 Years Later to Huntington Beach Middle School Teacher

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The Oregonian's Tom Hallman Jr. has a touching story about a retired Huntington Beach teacher and one of his former students who wanted to apologize for something that happened nearly four decades ago. Why Oregon? Because that's where James Atteberry retired to after leaving Southern California. Astoria, to be precise.

Two years ago, The Oregonian ran a story about the CASA program, which helps youths in the Pacific Northwest, that mentioned Atteberry, a volunteer. Larry Israelson, who for years had been scouring the Internet for any mention of Atteberry so he could apologize, caught the piece and filled out one of those online customer feedback forms. It read:

You published an item involving retired teacher James Atteberry and the CASA program. Mr. Atteberry was a teacher of mine in the early '70s, and I wish to apologize to him for a regrettable incident that occurred when I was his student. Can you provide any contact information for him, or would you be willing to serve as an intermediary and deliver a message on my behalf? Thank you for your time, and I await your reply.

A clerk at the newspaper sent the message to Hallman, and the reporter dutifully contacted the retired teacher, who is 75. Did Atteberry remember Israelson? Yes he did. Could Atteberry's address be forwarded to the now-grown man who was 12 the last time the two of them spoke at Sowers Middle School? Yes it could.

The letter Atteberry received read:

I am truly sorry for asking to be transferred out of your seventh grade social studies class at Sowers Middle School during the 1972-73 school year.

I don't have many specific memories from my two years at Sowers, but at the top of one of my assignments you wrote 'You will go far in life. Your command of the English language is exceptional.' Looking back on my younger self, I am certain that I reveled in being one of the 'teacher's pets.' As comfortable as I was in a classroom, however, the boy's locker room was something else entirely.


Atteberry was a well-liked teacher. He was also gay at a time when being so could get you fired from a public school. Rumors circulated around the school, and because Atteberry singled Israelson out for praise in front of classmates, that made the 12-year-old a target. In the locker room, boys started rhyming "Larry," "fairy" and "Atteberry."

The taunting led to after-school fights and, though Israelson admired Atteberry, the boy just could not take the abuse any longer and asked the principal for a transfer. He handed the slip to his teacher and left the classroom without saying a word. Click on the link on the opener page for the full story, Atteberry's reflections on being a closeted gay teacher in those days and the uplifting conclusion.

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2 comments
mkn888
mkn888

As we all know from personal experience, Middle School kids are total asses. I'm glad that the two were able to reconcile but I also think that their experience hints at the ubiquitous problem of bigotry, discrimination, and harassment in the school environment and in the world today. This needs to be fixed. Kindness should not ever be met with animosity, as it was in this context, and it is incumbent upon us as a people to work to foster better relationships between youth that don't involve hatred and persecution lest they carry those skills into the working world and their personal lives.

Jr
Jr

Middle school kids have an excuse for being asses.  They are young and do not know any better. The saying "wise beyond their years" was coined to apply to those that are in middle school and are not asses.What bothers me is those persons that have passed into adulthood and are still bigots. I wonder and would be frightened to know how many people do not like our current President because he is black. I am certain he is smarter and more capable than 100% of the bigots and 99.99% of those who are not bigots. I wonder what he might have accomplished if we were truly a post racial society!

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