Teacher resigns after school tells him to remove Pride flag from his classroom

Teacher filed complaint alleging that he faced employment discrimination

Shweta Sharma
Friday 10 September 2021 14:57 BST
File image: ‘This was an attempt to make my classroom more open and welcoming for all of my students’
File image: ‘This was an attempt to make my classroom more open and welcoming for all of my students’ (AFP via Getty Images)

A Missouri teacher resigned last week after his school’s administration asked him to remove a rainbow Pride flag from his classroom and restricted him from discussing sexuality or “sexual preference” at school.

John M Wallis, who was recently hired to teach speech, theatre and world mythology at Neosho Junior High School, said in a series of tweets said that the flag was a sign that his classroom was a safe space for all students.

"At the beginning of the school year, I had two signs above my whiteboards that read ‘In this classroom everyone is welcome’ and an LGBTQ+ pride flag on my bookshelf," Mr Wallis wrote on Twitter.

"This was an attempt to make my classroom more open and welcoming for all of my students and nothing was ever taught about the flag because it stood there as a reflection of my classroom as a safe space for my LGBTQIA+ students."

He has now filed a complaint with the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, USA Today reported, after some parents raised complaints over the Pride flag to school authorities.

He said he was told in a meeting that a parent had complained about him alleging that he “would potentially teach their child to be gay.”

"In fact, the use of the pride flag in my classroom was compared to hanging the Confederate flag in my classroom,” Mr Wallis said.

He said that on the first day when he put up the flag in his classroom a number of students reached out to thank him, and that after he took down the flag students would approach him “every hour” to ask the reason why.

"I answered truthfully while expressing that, if students had a problem with who I was, there were other open classes," he wrote on Twitter. "This led to three or more calls from parents accusing me of pushing my agenda in the classroom."

Jim Cummins, the Neosho School District superintendent, said in a statement to the News Leader newspaper: "As per all personnel matters, there is a limited amount of information that is allowed to be shared by the school district."

He said Mr Wallis resigned on 1 September to "pursue a different career path".

Mr Wallis shared the letter he received from Mr Cummins with the Virginia newspaper. The letter was a written document of their discussion which he had to sign.

“Our classrooms cannot become a personal platform for pushing one’s personal agenda. 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,” the letter read.

"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,” it added.

The instructions in the letter prohibit him from discussions “regarding human sexuality and/or sexual preference,” assignments related to the topic and display of references.

Mr Wallis noted that Neosho does not mention gender identity or sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policy. He said no questions are raised when a heterosexual teacher displays pictures of their spouse but “I have a flag and all hell breaks loose."

Missouri state representative Crystal Quade offered her support to Mr Wallis and said the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act should become law.

“I am ashamed this happened and continues to happen in our state. You- and our kids- deserve better.  #MOleg needs to be on the right side of history. MONA must become law and we must start putting ALL of our kids first,” she said.

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