A California high school made a statement last Friday after a chemistry teacher kneeled during the national anthem at a school assembly.
During a school pep rally last Friday, Woodland High School chemistry teacher Wendy Pappas held two social justice signs and kneeled during the national anthem, according to the Sacramento Bee. Though she kneeled during the anthem, she placed her hand over her heart while it played.
One of her signs read, “Black Lives Matter,” while the other read, "It’s okay to disagree with any sign here!!!"
How did school officials react?
The assembly went on without incident, but school administrators later came to Pappas’ classroom and sent her home. The Bee reported she was placed on paid leave.
Woodland principal Karrie Sequeria emailed and left a recorded message to students’ families over the weekend addressing the incident, according to the Bee. She said:
While teachers do retain certain First Amendment rights in their capacity as an instructor, such rights are limited by Education Code and case law. Their personal, political or religious beliefs are not appropriately expressed at school or in the classroom. Instead, the appropriate and legal instructional role is one of neutral facilitator – one who facilitates student discussion and intelligent analysis of current events.
What does the law say?
Michael Risher, an attorney for the ACLU, told the Bee that the First Amendment protects a teacher’s right to free expression as long as that expression doesn’t come at a school-sponsored event or during daily school activities.
More from the Bee:
Past California cases have found teachers were within their rights to wear political buttons at back-to-school nights or circulate petitions in a teacher’s lounge, since they were not actively instructing students.
What did Pappas say?
The high school teacher told the Daily Democrat that she didn't realize her protest would anger so many and said that she will apologize to those she offended.
"I felt like it was something respectful and supportive to our flag. I didn’t even think of it as a protest. I was taken off-guard by the reaction," she said, adding that she understands she broke the California Education Code.
According to the Bee, Pappas returned to her classroom on Tuesday.