"There's a lot of hurt, confusion, and fear from students who feel like the administration has a problem with them for being LGBTQ+," a teacher explained.
Hundreds of students at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, staged a walk-out protest on Wednesday after the school administration allegedly took down "safe space" stickers from classroom doors. Many of those who were marching wore heart-shaped rainbow stickers on their faces and clothes, the symbol some teachers used to signal their classrooms are a safe space for LGBTQ+ students. Speaking to WFAA, students explained that the "safe space" stickers had been handed out to all teachers by two teachers who sponsor the school's Gay-Straight Alliance Club in order to put on their doors if they were comfortable having discussions with students who identified as LGBTQ+.
Carrying rainbow flags, hundreds of students walked out of Irving’s MacArthur High School today, protesting what they describe as targeted discrimination against the campus’ gay students and teachers. https://t.co/bxKsuFkeLS— CBSDFW (@CBSDFW) September 23, 2021
However, earlier this month, students and teachers began noticing that the stickers were being scraped off from the classroom windows and doors. "I was freaked. The kids were freaked out," Rachel Stonecipher, an English teacher and a sponsor of the campus' Gay-Straight Alliance, told CBS11. Stonecipher explained that the disappearance of the stickers instantly worried students as they began wondering who had removed them and what message they were sending. "There's a lot of hurt, confusion, and fear from students who feel like the administration has a problem with them for being LGBTQ+," she said.
Hundreds of students walked out of Irving ISD's MacArthur High School on Wednesday in protest after teachers were allegedly forced to take down "safe space" stickers on their classroom doors that were for LGBTQIA+ students. https://t.co/QOd3lOPFMq— WFAA (@wfaa) September 22, 2021
"It was emotionally terrible for them," Stonecipher added. "I was a little scared too because I'm the only openly, very obviously gay teacher, lesbian teacher." She and at least four other teachers emailed the school's new principal — who took charge this year — asking for an explanation. In a memo to staff, Irving Independent School District said: "We want to send a different tone this year. The district's position is that our responsibility is to make campuses a safe zone for all students, not just in our classrooms, but on every inch of our campus."
Hundreds of students at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas walked out to protest disciplinary actions against two teachers supportive of LGBTQ+ youth. https://t.co/7lk9bPL5X7— The Advocate (@TheAdvocateMag) September 23, 2021
In an official statement following the student protest, the district said: "We value each student and strive to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment for every student, employee, and family. To ensure that all students feel safe regardless of background or identity, the district has developed guidelines to ensure that posters, banners, and stickers placed in classrooms, hallways, or offices are curriculum-driven and neutral in viewpoint. While educators have the right to express their personal viewpoints on their personal time, Irving ISD policy EMB-local states that teachers shall not use the classroom to transmit personal beliefs regarding political or sectarian issues. Legislators and courts have consistently sided with school districts and upheld district protocols that require neutral expression in classrooms."
Below is Irving ISD’s official statement regarding the protest at MacArthur High School today. pic.twitter.com/9zFau8lDuZ— Irving ISD (@IrvingISD) September 22, 2021
However, Stonecipher argued that the stickers "aren't political stickers, they are merely a signal that a teacher has the confidence to have conversations with LGBTQ+ students." In a school board meeting this week, students told trustees that the stickers helped them know which teachers they could approach for help. The situation has grown tenser in the days since the stickers first started disappearance as students claimed the administration had questioned some of them. "People including myself started getting called into the office randomly," sophomore Alyssa Harbin told school board members.
Students say they have no substitute teacher for these English & history classes, which is why signs on the doors instruct them to report to the gym & auditorium, where they hang out during this time period. @CBSDFW pic.twitter.com/AQdovxb8OC— Andrea Lucia (@CBS11Andrea) September 23, 2021
Harbin described the 45-minutes-long meeting as a "long, drawn-out interrogation." She added that although she was assured she hadn't done anything wrong, those who were called in for the questioning appeared to have one thing in common. "All of these randomly selected people have been to at least one Gay-Straight Alliance meeting making it feel extremely targeted," she said at the meeting. Students told trustees that they were also alarmed to see Stonecipher being escorted off campus last week. "GSA students are also extremely concerned for one of our sponsors, Ms. Stonecipher," junior Breanna Belvin said in the meeting.
"I'm fine. The kids don't need to be concerned about me," said Stonecipher. She also assured students that no matter what happens, she and fellow teachers at the school remain their allies. "Look, this job is way too hard, way too hard to be a teacher for us not to be here because we care," she said.