A California high-school teacher has been escorted off campus for kneeling through the national anthem during a school assembly.
Chemistry teacher Windy Pappas kneeled with two signs – one saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ and another reading ‘It’s OK to disagree with every sign here!!!’ – during a rally to kick off homecoming week at Woodland High School on Friday.
‘I felt like it was something respectful and supportive to our flag,’ Pappas told the Daily Democrat. ‘I didn’t even think of it as a protest. I was taken off-guard by the reaction.’
Teacher Windy Pappas was put on paid leave after this protest at Woodland High School in California. She said she didn’t expect anyone to be upset by the protest
The assembly continued after Pappas’ protest; she said she wasn’t aware that she had upset people until later that day.
After the assembly, a member of staff approached her in her classroom and walked her to her car.
Pappas (pictured) has First Amendment rights, the school said, but is contractually obliged to remain neutral while at work. She returned to teaching on Tuesday
Initially, Pappas didn’t know whether she had been suspended without pay, only that she would not be able to return to work until after an investigation.
‘It’s unnerving,’ she said. ‘I’m a single mom and that’s something I’m thinking about right now.’
On Monday the school confirmed to the Sacramento Bee that she had been placed on paid leave; she returned to work on Tuesday.
After Pappas’ removal on Friday the school district released the following statement: ‘We are aware that there was an unauthorized display during a Woodland High School rally on Friday.
‘As a District, we’re using this as a learning opportunity to ensure we are all aware of the free speech rights of students and employees in schools.’
Woodland High principal Karrie Sequeria elaborated on that message in an email sent out to parents.
‘While teachers do retain certain First Amendment rights in their capacity as an instructor, such rights are limited by Education Code and case law,’ she said.
‘Their personal, political or religious beliefs are not appropriately expressed at school or in the classroom.
‘Instead, the appropriate and legal instructional role is one of neutral facilitator – one who facilitates student discussion and intelligent analysis of current events.’
A photograph of Pappas circulated online, attracting both support and opposition.
‘Woodland High School people who is this teacher?’ asked local Kari Rohwer Powell, adding in her comments: ‘As a teacher you are supposed to keep order at the rally not be the rally.’
Kari Powell said she wanted to complain after Friday’s protest. She added: ‘As a teacher you are supposed to keep order at the rally not be the rally.’
Stephen Chaudhry, who claimed to be an Air Force veteran, said he wanted ‘to inflict pain and suffering to others who disrespect this flag’
Blair McAnelly gave a more sanguine response, saying that she wasn’t on a ‘witch hunt’ for Pappas, but that a homecoming rally ‘was not the place to do it’
Stephen J Chaudhary, who described himself as a 20-year Air Force veteran, commented: ‘I can’t put into words, how much I am disgusted about the disrespect for our flag.
‘I can’t and don’t comment on the subject on posts, because the amount of pain and hurt it causes me. More so, I want to inflict pain and suffering to others who disrespect this flag.’
Blair McAnelly was more sanguine: ‘All lives of course matter and we all should lead by example of that,’ she wrote.
‘I personally am not on a witch hunt for this teacher, I just feel the Homecoming rally was not the place to do it.’
The response from Pappas’ students and high-school-aged web users was more positive.
‘I respect Mrs. Pappas for being so devoted to her beliefs,’ wrote a Twitter user identified only as Liz. ‘THAT is a strong woman. THAT is bravery.’
Kevin Chavez wrote: ‘Proud to say I was a student of Mrs. Pappas, she has a right to kneel. Freedom of speech!’
And a user named Joaquin wrote: ‘I wanna bring Mrs pappas some candy and some flowers what’s her addy we gonna protest’.
Support for Pappas was strong among her students and younger members of the Woodland community, who commended her ‘bravery’
An ex-student of Pappas’, Kevin Chavez, said that her protest was freedom of speech – though school rules prohibit teachers from making political points during school time
Another user, Joaquin, said that he wanted to organize a protest outside the school – although no such protest appeared to materialize
But the most impassioned response came from student Alyssa Perez, who denied claims that Pappas used up the students’ class time to make the posters.
‘She always respects the opinions of her students, even if they went agaisnt [sic] hers,’ she wrote.
‘She DID NOT waste class time on those posters, I am part of the club who made them and we did them at lunch and after school. Time when she WAS NOT teaching.
‘And this was all optional, she didn’t force anyone to do anything. But now we will be stuck without a teacher for I don’t know how long.
‘She said it was okay to disagree, and it is. What is not okay is putting ideology above the education of her students.
‘She is a great teacher and I will be supporting her through this along with a lot of her other students. I wouldn’t want any other chemistry teacher, nor any other chemistry class.’
Alyssa Perez, a student of Pappas’ wrote this impassioned message, in which she said the school was ‘putting ideology above the education of her students’