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

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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