Saying he was defending the Constitution, a Los Gatos teacher on Sunday stood firmly behind his decision to give a student a failing grade on a quiz after she left class to join a walkout aimed at bringing attention to gun violence last week.
David Kissner, who teaches math and science at C.T. English Middle School, said Sunday he believes the Loma Prieta Joint Union School District “bent over backwards in order to promote and encourage” student participation in the walkouts, after the superintendent claimed the district would remain neutral on the issue.
“If they cut class to play basketball it should be the same consequence if they cut class to participate in a political activity. But there’s a consequence,” Kissner said.
A parent of a student at the school told NBC Bay Area that his daughter was punished for participating in the walkout, one of a wave of protests across the nation against gun violence in the wake of the Parkland, Florida massacre that killed 17 people, most of them students. He said the punishment — no credit for the quiz, although she answered some questions before she left class — occurred despite assurances from the school’s principal and district superintendent that nothing would happen to students if they walked out.
He alleged the teacher gave students a pop quiz Wednesday to discourage students from participating in the walkout because the teacher opposed it.
“Never pull a pop quiz and penalize the kids that wanted to exercise their First Amendment rights,” the parent told the television station.
The NBC Bay Area story didn’t name the teacher, but in a press conference Sunday, Kissner stepped forward and said he is that teacher.
Kissner denied it was a pop quiz, and said he planned it days in advance to coincide with “Pi Day,” March 14. He added he warned students that a quiz was scheduled for Wednesday.
Kissner accused the district administration of flip-flopping on the walkout. Sunday, he said Superintendent Corey Kidwell told teachers 10 days in advance of the walkouts they should “make it clear to students that a walkout protest is an act of civil disobedience” and that anyone who leaves would face standard disciplinary actions, such as an unexcused absence.
But “the proof is in the pudding,” Kissner said, noting that Kidwell also told teachers in a later meeting that any children whose parents signed their child out on March 14 would not be subject to consequences, which he said is in clear violation of school policy.
Kissner, who repeatedly invoked the Constitution during the interview, also said Kidwell told teachers to avoid planning graded activities for that day if they didn’t already have it in place, and as a result, “not a single teacher here on campus had a lesson plan for that day,” he said.
He also said the district changed the bell schedules that day in an attempt to accommodate children who wanted to participate. Kissner said in over six years of teaching there, he’s never seen that done to support a political activity.
Kidwell could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Kissner said that all school districts who made special exceptions to their discipline policy were disrespecting the U.S. Constitution by doing so.
“When a publicly funded school promotes one side of a highly divisive political issue, we undermine the the very constitution that protects the right we so cherish,” he said.
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