Some California students rallied Wednesday to stop the transfer of a U.S. history teacher at Brentwood's Heritage High School who was caught kneeling on video during a JROTC flag ceremony, KPIX-TV reported.
A video of teacher Tyler Rust taking a knee made the rounds on social media and riled many parents and students in the conservative East Bay area. Following the incident, Rust received notice from the Liberty Union High School District superintendent that he would be transferred to a school across town.
Rust told KPIX that his actions weren't meant to disgrace the American flag or the U.S. military.
“I teach history and so the history of racial violence is state mandated," Rust said. "I have to talk about JROTC. I took a knee not to be disrespectful to the flag; it’s meant to draw attention to racial violence in our country.”
He also admitted he's taken a knee multiple times, but claimed it's never happened during school hours.
What did his supporters say?
A couple of students who believe their teacher is being punished for his actions started an online petition that they presented at a school board meeting Wednesday night.
“Transferring Mr. Rust is equivalent to silencing marginalized students on campus, especially students of color,” Rezahn Abraha, one of the students behind the petition and a member of the Heritage Black Student Union, told KPIX.
The petition dubbed, "We kneel with Mr. Rust," gathered nearly 13,000 signatures, but fewer than 5,000 of the signatures were made by Californians.
"He [Rust] expresses liberal viewpoints in a very conservative area and has thus become a target of slander sometimes within the student body," Heritage High School student Carter Sims told KGO-TV at the protest.
Rust is an adviser to the Black Student Union and Mock Trial Club at the high school.
What do parents say?
At the school board meeting, one father called Rust "an adult bully" and that his daughter, and other students, are afraid of the teacher.
"She also feared her 4.0 GPA might be in danger in Mr. Rust's class because of her participation in the ROTC program," the dad said, according to KGO.
What does the superintendent say?
Superintendent Eric Volta said he "wholeheartedly" believes in the First Amendment rights, but that Rust has a history of causing disruptions for students and faculty, alike.
"However, the first and foremost responsibility of the administration of Liberty Union High School District is to provide a safe, sane and the best possible learning environment for our students and for our teachers," Volta told KTVU-TV.
The superintendent said the transfer is intended to give Rust a "fresh start."
The controversial teacher told KPIX that he appreciates the support he's received from some of his students.
“I’m really proud of these kids. Whatever happens to me — I will teach wherever they want and I’m happy to have the opportunity — I’m really proud of what these kids are doing. It says a lot about them,” Rust said.
Rust said he doesn't plan to fight the district's decision and will stay at Heritage High School “as long as they let me.”
It's not yet clear whether the transfer will be stopped, but if it goes through, the teacher said he doesn't know whether he will continue his protest during flag ceremonies at his new school.