A history teacher in California is back in her classroom after briefly being put on paid administrative leave for raising questions about the fairness of the National School Walkout over gun violence, which took place earlier this month.
Julianne Benzel, who teaches at Rocklin High School in Rocklin, California, said that she was “overwhelmed by the support of this community.”
She added, “It was wonderful to see my students. They were glad to have me back. And I was glad to be back in the classroom.”
Before she was put on leave, Benzel had asked her class whether schools should endorse protests selectively or in all cases. She said that she never told her students not to join the National School Walkout, or said anything against it. Her question to her classroom was simply whether the school would support a protest about another controversial topic.
“If high schools or public schools are going to be places of civic activism, I could not be a better proponent for it. But it has to be afforded to any student to protest anything,” she said in an interview with Sacramento’s KOVR-TV after she returned to school.
Benzel’s controversial question? Would schools support a protest if it was about another controversial political topic?
“And so I just kind of used the example,” she told KOVR, “which I know it’s really controversial, but I know it was the best example I thought of at the time — a group of students nationwide, or even locally, decided ‘I want to walk out of school for 17 minutes’ and go in the quad area and protest abortion, would that be allowed by our administration?” Benzel asked.
Rocklin High School quickly put Benzel on paid administrative leave and issued a statement which said:
A Rocklin High School teacher has been placed on paid administrative leave due to several complaints from parents and students involving the teacher’s communications regarding today’s student-led civic engagement activities.
After Benzel was allowed to return, a spokeswoman for the school told KOVR, “The teacher was not penalized or placed on leave based on her viewpoints. The actions were taken due to complaints from parents and students.”
While many students supported Benzel, and some took to shouting “free Mrs. Benzel,” others disagreed.
One student told KOVR, “What she said was inappropriate. You’re in a public school environment, and you’re surrounded by kids — people who cannot make decisions on their own, and so you kind of just change their opinion.”