High School drama teacher on leave for role in video

Etiwanda High School drama
teacher on leave for role in video

By Liset Marquez

A longtime drama teacher at Etiwanda High School has been placed on paid administrative leave – and could be facing disciplinary action – for his acting role in former student’s web series which showed him smoking what appeared to be marijuana.

Christian Kiley received a letter on Aug. 20, informing him of the decision to “allow the District to conduct a preliminary investigation to determine the next steps to be taken,” said William Trejo, Kiley’s attorney.

But the attorney for the teacher said Chaffey Joint Union High School District failed to respect the free speech rights of its employees.

“Mr. Kiley feels very strongly that the District is retaliating against him for the exercise of his artistic choices,” Trejo said in an email. “Mr. Kiley believes, and I strongly agree, that this is a First Amendment free speech that is being impinged upon by the District’s action. Even if no discipline is ultimately issued, Mr. Kiley and other teachers will feel the chilling effect upon their free speech rights through the District’s unwarranted action.”

Mat Holton, superintendent with the school district,
said he could not comment because it is a personnel matter.

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Holton said no administrative hearing has been set
at this time because the issue is still being investigated.

The issue stems from a pilot Kiley participated in on July 28 with several of his former students. The students had just started filming a web series called “Skidz” and were hoping it would get picked up by a cable channel. The show follows the two main characters, Damien and Zach, as they get into mischief and a cast of supporting characters who make the issue worse. Damien Darr, 20, co-created the show with his Cal State Fullerton classmate but also included three former Etiwanda students.

In the first episode, the drama teacher portrays “Bummy” a homeless man who asks two of the protagonists if they had any marijuana to smoke.

“The District seems to take issue with the mature themes in the pilot video; even though Mr. Kiley’s participation was during the summer break and did not involve his capacity as a teacher,” Trejo said.

Trejo questioned if Kiley would be treated the same if he appeared on the critically acclaimed AMC show involving drugs called “Breaking Bad.”

The original video was removed from the Internet by one of the producers when Kiley was placed on leave. It was only on an age-protected YouTube channel for 15 hours and garnered 65 views.

Kiley has been employed at the school since 2005 and has gained a reputation for helping students interested in pursuing a career in the entertainment industry. At the school, Kiley has led the drama program to win numerous competitions and the production of original student plays.

“He’s a mentor and someone you could come to about your artistic questions,” Darr said.

Darr said he was surprised to learn Kiley was in trouble for participating in the video. They have since recast Kiley’s role and shot another version of the first episode with the new actor, he said.

In the original scene with Kiley, the three characters appear to smoke marijuana but Darr said it was an herbal cigarette.

“He didn’t do anything inappropriate,” he said. “I just think he was just practicing what he teaches.”

In 2013, Kiley was the recipient of a scholarship from the National Shakespeare Competition allowing him to attend the “Shakespeare at the Huntington,” held at the Huntington Library in Pasadena.

Trejo said Kiley is not seeking any compensation but wants to be reinstated and have this cleared from his records. Kiley was not compensated for his work.

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