A Texas school district has reversed its decision to place a teacher on leave over Black Lives Matter, feminist and pro-LGBTQ posters displayed on the walls of her virtual classroom.
Taylor Lifka, an English teacher at the Roma High School in Roma, a border town of about 10,000 people, was placed on administrative leave Sunday after parents complained about the posters.
Speaking to NBC News, Lifka, 25, said the experience of having national attention turned toward her small classroom has been “overwhelming.”
“Our nation is in a really divisive state right now, and so when something like this comes out that a teacher is being placed on administrative leave because of parents' concerns over teaching tolerance in the classroom, that’s a bigger question,” she said.
In a statement shared with reporters, Roma Independent School District Superintendent Carlos Guzman said the district "regrets that this matter has become a point of controversy."
"It was never the intention of the district to indicate anything less than full support for the concepts of equality and student safety," Guzman said.
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Prior to her reinstatement on Wednesday, Lifka said she told the administration that “this isn't the first time that a parent’s been upset and this isn't the first time that a parent has asked for a child not to be in a specific teacher’s classroom.”
“I've already told the administration that I do not envy their position,” Lifka said, adding that she told them, "Your job sometimes might seem like a job where you need to please, and while this might be challenging, I think that sometimes we need to do the right thing even though it’s going to upset some people.”
This week, an online petition was started urging the school district to reverse its decision and reinstate Lifka.
"Please sign this petition to let the school district know that inclusivity and acceptance are not taboo ideas that deserve censorship; that high school students can and should be allowed to discuss the realities of the world instead of being sheltered inside a sanitized bubble; and that by reprimanding the teacher for trying to create a safe space for her students, the school is not being neutral, but is actively taking a stance that is antithetical to justice," the petition states.
The petition, which was started by the local LGBTQ rights group South Texas Equality Project, had 30,000 signatures as of Thursday, the day after the district reversed course. It is not clear whether the petition played a role in getting Lifka's leave reversed, but Lifka said she was inspired by those who signed on, saying they were calling not just for her reinstatement but for “antiracist” policies in a small town in Texas.
In her online profile for the Roma Independent School District, Lifka writes that she fell in love with the “vibrant border culture and the tight-knit community” of the Rio Grande Valley in 2017 when she worked there as a Teach for America member.
“Let us continue to take care of ourselves and one another at this time,” Lifka wrote.
Lifka said she was told in a Wednesday Zoom call that her administration leave was being reversed.
“They say I haven’t been punished, and that's fine, but at the same time I'm a human being and this has been challenging,” Lifka said. “To think about re-entering the classroom tomorrow gives me a lot of pause, because I need a moment to collect myself.”
“I need support from the administration, knowing I can re-enter the classroom, that we are all on the same page knowing what I can and cannot say to my students,” she said.
Lifka said she was told by a school administrator that their small town is "not ready" for some of her progressive views.
“If you’re not ready today, you’re not ready tomorrow, and if you’re not ready tomorrow you’re not going to be ready five years from now," she said. "If I’m not going to say something now, then when am I going to say something? It’s been clear that people have a lot of things to say.”