July 6, 2022

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Texas School Board Ousts Teacher Over Pro-LGBTQ Rainbow Stickers

5 min read

A teacher in North Texas received official notice Friday that she’ll be out of a job at the end of the school year after she objected to the school’s removal of pro-LGBTQ “safe space” stickers from the school building.

Rachel Stonecipher, a teacher in the Dallas suburb of Irving, found out Friday that her contract at the school would not be renewed. “The Board approved the Administration’s recommendation by a vote of 6-0, with one member absent,” reads the notice. “Based on this action, your probationary Chapter 21 Contract was terminated and your employment with Irving ISD will end on May 27, 2022.”

“I wish I was surprised that the Irving school board voted to terminate my contract,” Stonecipher tells Rolling Stone. “But they have shown absolutely zero willingness to collaborate with or even verbally respond to all of the speakers who have spoken out about discrimination since the district first pulled me from the classroom.”

Stonecipher, an English and journalism teacher at the Irving Independent School District, has been out of the classroom since the fall of 2021 on administrative leave. Now, she and the students counting on her for support are early casualties in Republican officials’ attacks on LGBTQ tolerance in schools, spurred in part by panic over so-called “grooming” that’s rooted in delusion and barely concealed bigotry.

On April 18, the Irving Independent School District board voted to approve a proposal from the administration to terminate Stonecipher’s contract at the end of the year. The move was initially missed by many, in part because of a confusing statement put out by one school board member, Dr. Rosemary Robbins, that said a final decision had not been made.

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The vote on Stonecipher’s contract came after students and members of the public lobbied the board to reinstate her during the public comment period. “For years we’ve bragged about how diverse and wonderful a place Irving is,” said Steven Weir, an Irving resident who spoke at the April 18 school board meeting. “Now we’re in a witch hunt.”

But so it goes here in North Texas, where a heated culture war playing out in school boards across the area has resulted in the firing of multiple educators amid free-speech controversies, mass resignations of district superintendents, and campaigns seeking to pull hundreds of books from the shelves that explore topics related to race, sex, and gender.

It all started when teachers returned to campus at the beginning of the 2021 school year. Some noticed something missing: rainbow “safe space” stickers they had placed on their classroom doors to indicate they were LGTBQ allies. The stickers’ disappearance came as a shock, as teachers had not been notified of the removal ahead of time.

Subsequently, an email to the entire faculty was sent by seven teachers in response to a bulletin explaining their removal, requesting clarifications on the exact nature of the policy, and raising a number of concerns from the perspective of staff. Five of the teachers were sponsors of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) chapter, the student group that had initially promoted the adoption of the stickers. That group email was sent from Stonecipher’s account.

Just days after pushing back on the removal, Stonecipher was put on administrative leave, then under investigation after an HR complaint accused of her of defaming a fellow faculty member as homophobic, which Stonecipher denies.

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The reasons offered by the district for removing the stickers and placing Stonecipher on leave have varied. At first, the reasons were vague, citing “district policy.” When pressed by Stonecipher and other teachers, the administration offered talking points saying they wanted to “make campuses a safe zone for all students.”

Stonecipher’s removal comes amid broader efforts by the GOP to crack down on curriculum, books, and other forms of media that may introduce students to topics that parents deem inappropriate. In the past year, multiple Texas state agencies have removed online resources for LGTBQ youth — including information related to suicide prevention. The passage of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill has spurred Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to seek the passage of a similar law in Texas. Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton have sought to label and investigate parents of transgender youth as child abusers.

In 2021, the first Black principal of nearby Colleyville Heritage High School was fired amid a heated panic over critical race theory. That principal, Dr. James Whitfield, spoke in support of Stonecipher outside the April 18 board meeting.

“I stand in solidarity with Rachel,” Whitfield said to the crowd. “I experienced something similar, not the same, but very similar at a nearby school district. What we’re seeing is an attack on progress toward building an inclusive environment for our kids.”

Hundreds of students walked out of class in protest of Stonecipher’s removal in September. Three spoke at the April 18 meeting, where the board voted on the recommendation to terminate Stonecipher’s contract — a move an administration representative said was in the best interest of the district. After the protest last fall, the school released a statement defending the decision. “The district does not allow teachers to use classrooms to transmit personal beliefs regarding political or sectarian issues,” the statement read.

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Stonecipher disputes the characterization: “Teachers are too exhausted to spend any extra energy promoting a personal agenda when we’re still struggling and underwater trying to promote the school’s agenda,” Stonecipher said chidingly. “But in all seriousness, only two out of the five sponsors of the Gay Straight Alliance [that promoted the stickers] are gay. The whole point of the Gay Straight Alliance is to unite across potential perspectives. And helping our students feel safe isn’t a personal agenda. That’s our job.”

Or at least, it was her job.

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