Hundreds of students at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, walked out Wednesday to protest disciplinary actions against two teachers supportive of LGBTQ+ youth.
The sponsors of the Gay-Straight Alliance at the school, located in a suburb of Dallas, had handed out “safe space” stickers for other teachers to place on their classroom doors to indicate they were welcoming to LGBTQ+ students. Many teachers put them on their doors this year and last, Texas TV station WFAA reports.
But recently school administration, led by a new principal this year, began forcing teachers to remove the stickers, citing a policy against using their classrooms to “transmit personal beliefs regarding political or sectarian issues,” reports The Dallas Morning News. Two teachers who refused to take down the stickers or, according to some outlets, objected to their removal, have been absent from MacArthur ever since.
Students told Dallas’s CBS affiliate they saw one of the teachers, Rachel Stonecipher, being escorted off campus. Administrators declined to discuss the employment status of Stonecipher or the other teacher, who has not been publicly identified. Stonecipher, who is lesbian, did not go into detail about her job status but said students shouldn’t worry about her, although the situation is unsettling.
A “safe space” poster Stonecipher had put on her door was missing in addition to the sticker, she told the station. “I was freaked. The kids were freaked out,” said Stonecipher, an English teacher and GSA sponsor. She added, “I was a little scared too because I’m the only openly, very obviously gay teacher, lesbian teacher.” But she also said, “I’m fine. The kids don’t need to be concerned about me.”
District officials had sent a memo to staff saying they wanted to convey a message that the entire campus was a safe space, not just certain classrooms, but students at the protest said the stickers let them know where LGBTQ+ students could go for help. Students who had been attended GSA meetings were called into administrators’ offices and interrogated about the stickers and related matters, they told the CBS station.
Some students and teachers objected to the idea that the stickers were “political” or “sectarian.” “These aren’t political stickers; they are merely a signal that a teacher has the confidence to have conversations with LGBTQ+ students,” Stonecipher told WFAA.