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1997 | Woody Harrelson issues statement on Donna Cockrel termination

Updated: Jan 19, 2019

The following article was originally published on Monday, August 18, 1997 by the Lexington Herald-Leader on page A8 of the Commentary section.


I remember when I first met Donna Cockrel and saw her rapport with the children in her class, her passion for teaching and the respect and interest they showed for her. I wished I had a teacher like her when I was in the fifth grade.

Unfortunately, she has spent much of the last year under fire and constantly criticized since I first visited her class at Simpsonville Elementary. It has taken an emotional toll on her to feel continually maligned by fellow teachers, administrators and irate parents.

Donna was fired, not for the reasons the school board gave , but simply for telling the truth about a plant. A plant that was once the No.1 cash crop in Kentucky, a plant that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew, a plant that Henry Ford used to make the first fuel and automobile body, a plant that could help replace trees for paper and petroleum for plastic, a plant that may not be the cure-all but could certainly help farmers.

My hat is off to Donna, one of those rare teachers who stands up, tells the truth, and fights for what she believes in. The saddest part of this whole situation is that no one thought to ask the students their opinion. All of the students I talked with had no trouble understanding what hemp is, it's distinction from marijuana, it's agricultural and industrial benefits.

And none of them, I believe, would agree with the school board's decision to let go of one of their favorite teachers. A curious example for children if ever there was one: A teacher who cares is fired for telling the truth.

Woody Harrelson

Los Angeles, Calif

Click the links below to learn more about the Harrelson and Cockrel trials:



August 18, 1997, Lexington Herald-Leader

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