Society

Teacher Fired After Wearing 'Black Lives Matter' Button

| by Kathryn Schroeder

A white substitute teacher in California was fired the day after he wore a Black Lives Matter button to class.

As a 15-year substitute teacher for the Clovis Unified School District, 75-year-old David Roberts went to work in November at Clovis West High wearing a Black Lives Matter button on his shirt pocket, The Fresno Bee reports.

The next day, he was told he was not allowed to work at the school any longer.

“They said it was a violation of their policy of being neutral regarding political issues, but I don’t consider it a political statement. It is a moral statement,” Roberts said. “I was very surprised because I didn’t think it was a violation of anything.”

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An incident report was made Nov. 8 by the school district regarding Roberts’ wearing of the Black Lives Matter button.

“I was informed by an instructional assistant that the substitute teacher was wearing a political button and that some students were offended, and he wasn’t following the lesson plan,” the report, which was submitted to human resources by Clovis West Deputy Principal Tony LeFore, Gabe Calderon -- the teacher Roberts was substituting for -- and school secretary Dawni Peisch, said.

The report stated that LeFore explained to Roberts during fourth period that the school remains “politically neutral on campus” and that Roberts then removed his button.

Roberts reportedly asked LeFore during the same conversation if he would be allowed to wear a button that read “In God We Trust,” and he was told no.

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Roberts, who followed the day’s lesson plan, believes the disciplinary action taken against him was solely because of his Black Lives Matter button.

“A pin that reads ‘Black Lives Matter’ is not a political button. It is a peaceful request to end this violence. It is not a protest. It is not intended to be anti-police and does not imply that black lives matter more than other lives. It simply says they matter, too,” he said. “Clovis Unified claims you have to be neutral, but they’re not neutral. There’s a set of beliefs you’re expected to have there.”

Roberts said that several minority students came to his classroom that day to shake his hand in appreciation of the button.

Clovis West High has the largest number of black students in the district.

“That’s why I was doing it: to show solidarity to the kids,” Roberts said. “They really appreciated it. They understand it.”

District teachers are forbidden to address issues that contain any matter “reflecting adversely upon persons because of their race, color, creed, national origin, ancestry, sex, handicap or occupation,” but the policy also says that controversial issues have a legitimate place in classrooms if properly introduced and will help students learn about important issues.

“We respect the rights of any employee of the district, outside of their instructional role, to freely express their personal opinions and beliefs,” Clovis Unified spokeswoman Kelly Avants said in an email to The Fresno Bee. “During the instructional day, however, it is our expectation that employees attempt to remain neutral in their speech and/or behavior in order to promote a learning environment free from distractions and/or possible disruption.”

Roberts will not be returning to Clovis West High as a substitute teacher, but has worked at other schools in the district since the button incident. He is fearful, though, that it may stop him from getting work in the future.

Not all school districts reprimand their teachers for supporting Black Lives Matter.

In October, about 2,000 Seattle, Washington, educators wore Black Lives Matter shirts at their schools as a call for racial equality in education, The Seattle Times reported. They also held “Black Lives Matter at School” rallies before classes began, and wore Black Lives Matter buttons.

The school district, who did not sponsor the demonstration, had asked students, family, staff and community members to “engage and join the conversation in our unified efforts to eliminate opportunity gaps.”

Sources: The Fresno Bee, The Seattle Times / Photo credit: Eric Paul Zamora/The Fresno Bee

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