Texas teacher placed on leave after parents complained about her virtual 'Black Lives Matter' poster
Taylor Lifka, a 25-year-old English teacher at Roma High School in Roma, Texas, wanted to create an inclusive environment for her online classes this school year.
So she created a virtual background with posters that read: "Black Lives Matter," "Amiga, tu lucha es mi lucha," (Your struggle is my struggle) and "Diverse, Inclusive, Accepting, Welcoming, Safe Space for Everyone" in rainbow colors.
Before the first day of school, she asked her incoming students to put their names and preferred pronouns in the chat box on the digital chalkboard. Then, she posted a screenshot of her classroom on her social media.
Some parents complained about the inclusive posters to the principal.
"My assistant principal told me, 'Please take the posters down.' I guess once that happened, I knew that it might be a rocky road, but considering being put on leave? I never really thought that that was going to be their first step," Lifka told The Texas Tribune.
However, the district did just that – put her on administrative leave. She was also told that some parents were not ready for her progressive views.
"If you're not ready today, you're not ready tomorrow, and if you're not ready tomorrow you're not going to be ready five years from now," Lifka said according to Yahoo. "If I'm not going to say something now, then when am I going to say something? It's been clear that people have a lot of things to say."
Supporters fought back by starting a petition that received nearly 35,000 signatures.
"Please sign this petition to let the school district know that inclusivity and acceptance are not taboo ideas that deserve censorship; that high school students can and should be allowed to discuss the realities of the world instead of being sheltered inside a sanitized bubble; and that by reprimanding the teacher for trying to create a safe space for her students, the school is not being neutral, but is actively taking a stance that is antithetical to justice," the petition read.
The situation then became part of the local culture wars when a photograph of the virtual classroom was shared on a pro-Trump Facebook page and then amplified by Marian Knowlton, a Republican running for the District 31 state House seat.
Knowlton claimed that the education system was "radicalizing" students in "leftist indoctrination."
All this because Lifka was trying to create an inclusive environment for her students.
"Our nation is in a really divisive state right now, and so when something like this comes out that a teacher is being placed on administrative leave because of parents' concerns over teaching tolerance in the classroom, that's a bigger question," she said.
On Tuesday, Lifka was reinstated by the district, but she refused to return to work until there were clearer inclusivity guidelines for teachers.
"I need support from the administration, knowing I can re-enter the classroom, that we are all on the same page knowing what I can and cannot say to my students," she said.
Lifka hopes that, in the end, the situation will be a learning opportunity for the district.
"If I just reenter the classroom without any further discussion or action of how is this going to change in our community, then what was all this for?" Lifka said.
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