A Tampa, Florida, high school teacher has prohibited several students from wearing cross necklaces in her classroom, and the school district is now opening an investigation into the matter.
According to a letter sent on Thursday to Hillsborough County Public Schools from Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit organization specializing in legal cases involving constitutional law, math teacher Lora Jane Riedas allegedly told at least three of her students that they were not allowed to wear the Christian emblem because it represented a gang symbol. One of the crosses, according to Liberty Counsel, is less than an inch tall.
"We write on behalf of parents of children in the classroom of teacher Lora Jane Riedas, a math teacher at Riverview High School, who report that Ms. Riedas has prohibited at least three children from wearing Christian cross necklaces in her classroom, claiming on occasion that they are 'gang symbols,'" the letter said. "They are not gang symbols, but are symbols of personal faith."
"[Riedas said] 'I need you to take your necklace off.' Our client asked 'Why?' and Ms. Riedas refused to explain, stating 'That’s disrespectful; you have to take it off.' Our client did not want to be disrespectful, so she took it off, but she felt bad because she felt she was being forced to deny her faith. All of our clients are afraid to openly wear their cross necklaces in class any more," the letter stated, detailing a Christian student's interaction with the teacher.
The letter also alleged on a separate occasion, Riedas discriminated against a student for wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat associated with President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.
"Our clients report another student was told to 'get out of my class' simply for wearing a red 'Make America Great Again' hat while working on an assignment, and otherwise being nondisruptive," Liberty Counsel said. "She had not told him previously to remove the hat, and the only thing she said about it was 'get out of my class.'"
Liberty Counsel also asserted that Riedas has also promoted LGBT activism on social media during class hours, and expressed her plans to participate in the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network's "Day of Silence" which was held Friday. The "Day of Silence" was a student-led campaign that aims to bring attention to LGBT bullying at schools across the nation.
"Tweeting on Twitter and otherwise encouraging fellow teachers to use GLSEN’s political activism 'guide' during the school day, and join her in creating a politically-charged classroom environment is not part of Ms. Riedas’ education duties, and violates District policy," the letter added.
Detailing the legal and ethical violations of Riedas, Liberty Counsel concluded that their organization would take legal action against the school district if they did not immediately prohibit Riedas from banning religious symbols and promoting LGBT activism during school hours.
“We are in receipt of the letter from the Liberty Counsel. We have been in contact with the principal to initiate an investigation. However, the principal says she has not received a complaint from any student or parent regarding any claims made in the Liberty Counsel document regarding this teacher,” said the district's public relations manager Tanya Arja, according to the Daily Caller.
Riedas addressed President Donald Trump's annual White House Easter egg roll on her Twitter account Wednesday, accusing him of committing a "microaggression" by not inviting public school children.
— LoraJane Riedas (@LoraJane) April 20, 2017
Riedas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.