A gay Missouri teacher who says district officials reprimanded him for pushing a “personal agenda on sexuality” for putting up an LGBTQ Pride flag in his classroom has resigned.
John M. Wallis, a former speech and theater teacher at Neosho Junior High School in Southwest Missouri, said he resigned last week following a series of complaints from parents and demands from the school district.
In a Twitter thread, Wallis, who grew up in Neosho and attended the school he was teaching at, explained that he had hung a Pride flag in his classroom, along with a sign that read, “In this classroom EVERYONE is welcome,” in the hope that students, especially LGBTQ youth, would know they had a teacher they could come to for help — something he didn’t have growing up.
“I didn’t have any teachers that were openly accepting of LGBTQ+ students,” he said. “And so, for me, as an out educator in southwest Missouri, I know what my experience was and I didn’t want that to be the same experience for my students.”
“Within the first week, I had almost 10 students come up to me and personally thank me because they wouldn’t know where else to go if they hadn’t seen that flag,” Wallis told the Kansas City Star in an interview.
But some of his students informed their parents about the sign and the flag, which led one parent to complain to administrators, alleging that Wallis “was going to teach their child to be gay.”
“I was then instructed to take my flag and signs down,” Wallis, who also serves as a coach for the junior high and high school speech and debate teams, said on the Twitter thread. “In fact, the use of the pride flag in my classroom was compared to hanging the Confederate flag in my classroom.”
He took down the flag and the sign, but doing so prompted students to ask why.
“I answered truthfully while expressing that, if students had a problem with who I was, there were other open classes,” Wallis wrote on Twitter. “This led to three or more calls from parents accusing me of pushing my agenda in the classroom.”
He was then called into a meeting with the district superintendent. At that meeting, Superintendent Dr. Jim Cummins asked Wallis to sign a letter agreeing not to have any references to sexuality or gender displayed in his classroom, avoid discussing human sexuality or sexual orientation, even in passing, and avoid giving students research or assignments dealing with sexuality, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
“Our classrooms cannot become a personal platform for pushing one’s personal agenda,” the letter, printed on district stationery, read, according to the Springfield News-Leader. “Your position in the Neosho School District is to teach speech and drama classes. You were hired because we believe you were the best candidate to do such. However, if you are unable to present the curriculum in a manner that keeps your personal agenda on sexuality out of your narrative and the classroom discussions, we will ultimately terminate your employment.”
Wallis decided not to sign the letter, and instead submitted his resignation.
“Let me be clear, I had every intention of staying with this district for years to come, but this was too much to handle,” Wallis said. “Indeed, it appears that there is a different set of rules if you are an LGBTQ+ educator. Neosho has no mention of gender identity or sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policy, and that is disconcerting enough. Couple that with a policy banning anything that expresses part of me in the classroom, and it makes for a hostile work environment.
Cummins said in a statement to KOAM News there was a “limited amount of information” allowed to be shared about a personnel issue, but confirmed that Wallis was hired on Aug. 13 and submitted his resignation on Sept. 1.
Wallis told the News-Leader that he has since filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, alleging discrimination.
“The problem I have with it, obviously, is that it’s specific to me, and as an openly gay man that seems a bit discriminatory because if you’re a straight teacher, you can talk about your spouse, your kids, you can have a picture of your family in the classroom, but I have a flag and then all of a sudden there’s a problem, you know, it didn’t make any sense,” Wallis said of the way the district handled the conflict.
“I want people to know that I’m not doing this because I hate Neosho,” he added. “I’m doing this because we need to have policies in place, especially for public education that supports all of our students and all of our educators.”
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