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Clarissa T's picture

Without a doubt, our nation is divided, and it should no less, encourage us to love, unite, and make small efforts of kindness, a daily act upon which we show the next generation resilience.

As a school district employee, I strive to foster the conditions for this kindness, in order to nourish the character of the inquisitive, pure minds of the youth I have the privilege of looking after.

As an employee, complaints from students about staff or administration far more exceeded one district I served over another; incidentally, my school district in high school. I reflected on some of what I’d experienced growing up: marginalization, uncomfortable experiences, and racism by staff.

Inappropriate teacher-student relationships were kept under wraps or silently dismissed, then the same teachers were later rehired in another district. POC kids, singled out by staff for dress code checks and disciplinary actions. As we became larger in number, some of these issues receded, but I never forgot the civil liberty violations: prayers, pledge of allegiance requirements, and of course, religious indoctrination in class.

Anyone that verbally dissented or presented a well-written essay on anything other than the conservative threshold and policies of the district, suffered ridicule, confrontations, and ostracization by staff, teachers, and students alike. Rumors spread fast and FERPA completely ignored. Ostracization manifested itself with stony silences. Emotional and mental strains ensued.

Unbearable, but nevertheless, this was the environment in which we attempted to receive an education. What could we do in the Bible Belt? We were afforded little rights.

I see their stronghold and tactics gaining hold on a national level, and the fear sets in again. I still cannot wrap my mind around the magnitude of paralysis they created for anyone that tried to be impartial, ethnic, or abide to any principle of equality.

During the duration of my employment, I witnessed my Cambodian Buddhist neighbors egged on and encouraged to attend, “Beach Club,” after school on their campus. A fundamentalist Baptist program where kids come in to be cheered and given prizes after being told they would go to hell. They came home crying, because they were told they would go to hell for being Buddhist, in front of fellow classmates and staff, and still, to my horror, I did nothing. Their parents were horrified and deeply hurt, but they too knew where they lived and the insurmountable pushback they would receive for speaking out, deterred them from taking a stand.

This same lady appeared at my voting location during midterms, as an election employee, advertising the “Beach Club” and her church, as we tried to check our ID's to vote.

And still I did nothing.

One particular campus, (where a teacher confided in a student that half the staff left in a year because of sexual harassment from the Principal) many long time teachers still sexualize female bodies and embed religion in class, students’ civil liberties are violated everyday. I have personally witnessed Principal and Teachers lead classrooms or campuses in prayer on morning announcements. Furthermore, secular language isn't even considered. But the biggest violation: forcing students to recite and stand for the Pledge of Allegiance with disciplinary threats and intimidation tactics.

Students have not just been forced to stand and recite, but they have been confronted by staff. Vulnerable and young and in unaware of their rights, they have been bullied and harassed. Singled out in hallways for “a talk” and some even penalized on their grades. One teacher finds out and tells others. The wildfire ensues and engulfs them to subserviency against the Supreme Court's ruling in 1953.

Students have complained about these violations for decades, especially in the Bible Belt, but recently these violations have come more to light thanks to advocacy organizations. These violations have been resolved in Oregon and Louisiana, the most recent case, where the state decided to address it immediately, without court hearings, to save the students vulnerability in having to abandon their anonymity and expose them to staff.

Students expressed concerns to me repeatedly, so I decided to inform the students on their rights. I found out a student I informed is not only a Trump supporter, but his mother teaches on campus, & is one herself. This is one of the teachers the students fear. “Campus administration” filed a report against me, and not only am I now banned from that campus, but I am subject to be removed. I am not only terrorised by the possible damages to my income and career prospects, but as a mother in a state ravaged with so much inequality, I am extremely disappointed that I have now exposed these children to the staff, who will subsequently interrogate students.

The conversation with my Supervisor was not only an initiation of removal, but began with an adamant statement in violation of students’ constitutional right, ”You should be encouraging the students to stand.” I cited West Virginia vs Barnette. She refuted to a quick change of, “No political or religious discussions in class,” which I refuted with civil liberties are apolitical and posing a question, “Does the school district triumph the Supreme Court and its rulings?” She finally settled on the only way not to answer these questions, “No discussions off the curriculum or you will be removed.”

Upon requesting to summarize our conversation and her consenting to the written testimony presented in a typed email, I also asked her if I may include links and literature and not only defend my position, but demonstrate the apolitical action of informing others, specifically minors, of their rights. She relented and repeated that it was not allowed, but she would consider the information as she will report the complaints “up”, I assume, to higher level administration.

I was cordial, professional, and requested she amend the report to reflect how the conversation commenced, a response to complaints from the community and repeated student expressions. I also informed her of teachers discussing personal political and religious viewpoints within their curriculum.

Her responses were curt, and most of all, scripted (and signs of our conversation being recorded while receiving counsel were also noted). The solution to addressing the intimidation tactics by the staff over the constitutional violations were never addressed, but rather they should be routed to the counselor, a colleague of the administration. She also tried to dismiss my concerns, “I have NEVER received these complaints before,” which I felt my duty to inform her that even though no one had approached her personally, these were very REAL fears for parents, students, and concerned staff alike. The violations of civil liberties were “campus, district policy,” she said. Clearly, not to be interfered, questioned, and punishable by removal from the campus. I am not allowed to return, but can find work elsewhere in the district...for now.

What I feel tonight, on a tumultuous journey through the degrading racial, gender, and colonization rhetoric inflicted upon me all my life, is finally, nearly, hopelessness. As a mother and a believer in diversity, and love, and the willingness to learn from one another, what will my child learn from this administration and school district?

AND What am I modeling? Do I give up this fight in protecting minors from having their rights violated? Or do I shut up and make sure I can feed my son?

Do I lose my principles and my worries for these children? Or do I just leave and go away?

Tonight I wrestle with my conscious as so many in this nation go to bed uneasy that no one will protect them.


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