A Sacramento-area school district is responding to questions from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) after an elementary school teacher allegedly threw away student posters about the Black Lives Matter movement, reports NBC News.
The teacher assigned a project in September related to causes that students at San Juan Unified School District care about and changes they want to see in school. But when four students created art projects in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, NBC News affiliate KCRA reported that the teacher allegedly decided to throw those posters away and made students do the assignment over again.
The lesson plan came from a parent volunteer for the class, who titled the project “Art can manifest in activism — can manifest in our communities and school,” according to a letter from the ACLU Foundation of Southern California to the San Juan Unified School District. The volunteer said the teacher asked “her whether students were getting shot at the school and demanded answers regarding why a presentation on Black Lives Matter was relevant to Del Paso Manor Elementary,” according to the ACLU letter.
“(The teacher) pressed our parent to say why she felt that Black Lives Matter was an appropriate topic to be discussed at school, and also to explain how Black Lives Matter was something they should be talking about when there’s no shootings that happened at the school,” wrote Abre Conner, a staff attorney with ACLU Foundation of Northern California.
The ACLU claims that the teacher’s actions amounted to an attempt to censor the parent volunteer’s free speech. It also noted that under California’s Education Code, student freedom of speech is protected. “By censoring and punishing the students, the school violated their constitutional free speech rights, and sent the damaging message that supporting Black lives is not welcome in their classrooms,” Conner said in the statement.
The school district maintains the assignment was for students to produce artwork related to changes they wanted to see within the school, not larger social issues. Those who engaged in larger commentary were asked to redo the assignment, the district said. “It is inconsistent with our values and never our intent or desire for any student to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome to discuss issues that are important to them,” the district said in a statement.
“We sincerely apologize if this experience made any student feel such discomfort. Censoring a student’s assigned work because of its content would not be acceptable.” The ACLU is asking the district to provide a public apology, allow the parent to return to her role as a classroom volunteer, hang student Black Lives Matter posters during a spring art display, provide curriculum and events that include Black Lives Matter and create cultural and sensitivity training for staff as well as parent engagement training