A Texas high school teacher, who had been placed on administrative leave over posters celebrating LGBTQ and racial equality, has been reinstated, school officials announced Wednesday.
Taylor Lifka, an advanced English teacher at Roma High School, wanted to personalize her virtual classroom space by adding some warmth to it.
She decorated her student’s new online learning environment with a dog, some flowers, a couple of personal photographs, and a few posters like the ones she has in her non-virtual classroom.
One of them read “Black Lives Matter;” another showed two brown hands next to a Spanish phrase speaking about solidarity: “Amiga, tu lucha es mi lucha” (“Friend, your battle is my battle”); and one featured the LGBTQ rainbow colors, with a message that read, “Diverse, Inclusive, Accepting, Welcoming, Safe Space, For Everyone.”
The classroom’s digital chalkboard also had some instructions for students: “Put your name and preferred pronouns in the chat box and choose an emotion, from the wheel on the bookshelf, to describe how you feel today.”
Lifka proudly shared a screenshot of her new space on social media. Unfortunately, her decorating skills weren’t universally appreciated.
On Sunday, a day before her first class, she was asked to take down the signs — which she refused to do. A few hours later, she was placed on administrative leave.
“My assistant principal told me, ‘Please take the posters down,’” Lifka told The Texas Tribune. “I guess once that happened, I knew that it might be a rocky road, but considering being put on leave? I never really thought that that was going to be their first step.”
Officials with the school said that, over the weekend, parents filed complaints about the LGBTQ and the Black Lives Matter signs.
In order for the Roma Independent School District, which currently serves over 6,000 students, to properly review those concerns, it was “necessary for the District to place Ms. Lifka on leave until we could fully and responsibly review this matter,” ISD said in a statement.
A petition to let the district know that “what they did was morally wrong,” gathered more than 30,000 signatures, as of Thursday morning.
“Inclusivity and acceptance are not taboo ideas that deserve censorship,” the change.org petition reads. “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.”
On Wednesday, the district announced that Lifka had been reinstated.
“Roma ISD recognizes the importance of initiatives that promote the equal treatment and acceptance of all students in the District,” the statement read. “It is District’s goal to provide a safe, inclusive and welcoming educational environment for every student.”
ISD contacted the English teacher on Tuesday “to communicate that this matter had been reviewed, and notified her that she was no longer on administrative leave.”
Lifka told The Texas Tribune said doesn’t plan on returning until the district commits to supporting “anti-racist policies and tolerance in our classrooms.” But she said she was thrilled with her students’ reaction.
“To see what my kids have done with their voice over this is just unspeakable. That’s the teaching moment,” Lifka said. “Don’t ever doubt that your voice matters because there is power in the people, and there is the power to your voice and what you have to say.”
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