Teacher Put on Leave After 'Sniper Rifle' Comment About Greta Thunberg, District Says

Sandra E. Garcia

An Iowa chemistry teacher was placed on administrative leave after saying on Facebook that he would not attend a rally featuring climate activist Greta Thunberg because he didn’t “have my sniper rifle,” according to school officials and reports.

The teacher, identified by school officials as Matt Baish, was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, the Waterloo Community School District said in an email to teachers and students, the television station KWWL reported Friday.

“The nature of the content shared rose to the level of putting this employee on administrative leave pending an investigation,” the district said. “We appreciate your patience as we sort through the details and thank you for respecting the process.”

Mason Severson, 27, a former student of Baish’s, asked in an Oct. 2 Facebook post who was going to attend a climate strike rally in Iowa City on Friday, and linked to an article with a photo of Thunberg.

Baish responded, “dont have my sniper rifle,” according to the post.

Severson on Sunday said the post “was insensitive and taken too far.”

“It wasn’t a joke,” said Severson, who is a pre-med student at the University of Northern Iowa. “It wasn’t baseless. It was irrefutably vile and wrong.”

Baish teaches chemistry at West High School in Waterloo, Iowa, about 55 miles north of Cedar Rapids.

Baish, school officials and the Waterloo Education Association, the teachers’ union, could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Thunberg is a 16-year-old climate activist who began protesting outside of the Swedish parliament last year. After being invited, she spoke at the United Nations last month and made the trip to the United States on the Malizia II — a racing yacht that uses solar panels and underwater generator turbines — to avoid producing carbon emissions.

Severson said Thunberg’s activism was a “worthy cause” because “her words are on all of our — millennials’ — lips,” he said.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks during a Blue Leaders breakfast briefing focused on the release of and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere In a Changing Climate, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in New York. Thunberg is among four people named Wednesday as the winners of a Right Livelihood Award, also known as the "Alternative Nobel." (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

This was not the first time Baish made a comment on one of Severson’s Facebook posts that drew attention.

In July, Severson posted photos of Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

Baish commented, “all 4 should be out of office ... worst Americans in my lifetime.”

A friend of Severson’s, Dasia Mills-Anderson, 29, said on Facebook that Baish’s comment about Thunberg was “disgusting.”

On Sunday, she said his remark was “absolutely vile for anyone, let alone a teacher.”

“He can have his opinion all he wants on climate change and even on Greta Thunberg, but threatening someone’s life, especially a child, takes it too far,” she said.

Thunberg attended the rally Friday and urged those in attendance to “never give up.”

“No matter what, we need to continue, no matter how hopeless the situation may seem like, we must always carry on and we must never allow ourselves to give up,” Thunberg said. “That is simply not an option.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

© 2019 The New York Times Company