One high school teacher in California was briefly placed on leave after she took a knee during the national anthem at a school pep rally.
Last Friday, Woodland High School chemistry instructor Windy Pappas took a knee while she held two social justice signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “It's OK to disagree with any sign here,” The Sacramento Bee reported.
The assembly continued without any interruption. However, school administrators later came to Pappas's classroom and escorted her to the parking lot. She was sent home and placed on paid leave.
In a statement to parents, Woodland High School Principal Karrie Sequeira explained the decision to place Pappas on paid leave:
While teachers do retain certain First Amendment rights in their capacity as an instructor, such rights are limited by Education Code and case law.
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.
It should be noted Pappas, who even while kneeling held her hand over her heart, returned to the classroom Tuesday, according to the Bee.
But in the meantime, the ACLU of Northern California jumped on Woodland High School for placing the chemistry teacher on leave over the issue. The civil rights group argued she was not acting in her capacity as a teacher and, therefore, could exercise her constitutional rights freely.
“Homecoming is not a part of the school curriculum. It's essentially a social or spirit event, and that would certainly weigh in favor of her expressing her political views at that sort of event,” ACLU attorney Michael Risher said. “I don't think anyone would confuse her personal expression here with expressing the views of the school, and that matters in this context.”
Pappas, for her part, told the Daily Democrat she was surprised anyone would object to her decision to take a knee during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“I felt like it was something respectful and supportive to our flag,” she said. “I didn’t even think of it as a protest. I was taken off-guard by the reaction.”
The teacher noted that, before the pep rally, she informed her students of her plans to demonstrate during the anthem. Pappas said she told her students “all lives matter.”
Pappas's decision to take a knee during the anthem follows that of hundreds of NFL players in recent weeks who have participated in the same protest during the national anthem.