Hundreds of students walked out of a Texas high school on Wednesday, claiming discrimination against queer students and teachers.
Many of those protesting at MacArthur High School in Irving wore heart-shaped rainbow stickers on their faces — symbols of solidarity with LGBTQ students that were suddenly taken down from many teachers’ doors and windows.
Texas TV station WFAA reports that teachers had put up the “safe space” stickers last year, including Rachel Stonecipher. She told a Dallas CBS affiliate that the Safe Space poster outside her classroom disappeared.
“I was freaked. The kids were freaked out,” she said. “I was a little scared too because I’m the only openly, very obviously gay teacher, lesbian teacher.”
She and at least four other teachers emailed the principal, who joined the school this year, to demand an explanation.
In a memo to staff, the Irving Independent School District said, “We want to send a different tone this year. The district’s position is that our responsibility is to make campuses a safe zone for all students, not just in our classrooms, but on every inch of our campus.”
After the protest, the district released a statement saying that educators are not allowed to “use the classroom to transmit personal beliefs regarding political or sectarian issues.”
“In Irving ISD, our campuses are a safe zone for all students,” the statement reads. “To ensure that all students feel safe regardless of background or identity, the district has developed guidelines to ensure that posters, banners and stickers placed in classrooms, hallways or offices are curriculum driven and neutral in viewpoint.”
Stonecipher has stressed that the stickers are not political.
“They are merely a signal that a teacher feels confident in their ability to have these conversations,” she told WFAA.
Additionally, students who have attended GSA meetings at MacArthur told CBS that they have been questioned by the administration.
“People including myself started getting called into the office randomly,” said sophomore Alyssa Harbin, who described being subjected to what felt like a “long, drawn out interrogation.”
“All of these randomly selected people have been to at least one Gay Straight Alliance meeting, making it feel extremely targeted,” she said at a school board meeting.
Stonecipher, who sponsors the school’s GSA, told WFAA that “there’s a lot of hurt, confusion, and fear from students who feel like the administration has a problem with them for being LGBTQ+.”
Both WFAA and CBS reported that students have not seen Stonecipher on campus since administrators removed her from class on Sept. 16.
She is one of two teachers who have been absent from MacArthur because of their support for LGBTQ students, according to the Advocate.
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