Thousands of students across the country walked out their classroom this past Wednesday to protest gun violence, but after a California teacher tried to open a debate in class about the politics of the protest, she was put on paid leave.
Sacramento history teacher Julianne Benzel told CBS 13 that prior to the walkout, she wanted to keep her students informed by discussing it from a different perspective.
Benzel said she never discouraged her students from participating in the nationwide walkout and that she only questioned whether it’s appropriate for a school to support a protest against gun violence if they’re not willing to support all protests.
Benzel told the news station:
“[…] I just kind of used the example which I know it’s really controversial, but I know it was the best example I thought of at the time—a group of students nationwide, or even locally, decided ‘I want to walk out of school for 17 minutes’ and go in the quad area and protest abortion, would that be allowed by our administration?”
Following the class discussion, Rocklin High School administration didn’t talk to her about her lecture.
However, as thousands of students walked out of class, Benzel received a letter from her human resources department informing her she was being placed on paid administrative leave, reports CBS 13.
Benzel explained that she thinks she was unfairly “targeted” by Rocklin High School administration for her controversial discussion topic.
“I didn’t get any backlash from my students. All my students totally understood that there could not be a double standard.
I feel like if we were to go to school and say something like I want to walk out maybe for abortion rights, then you know they probably wouldn’t let us because that’s more of a conservative push. But someone wants to say let’s walk out for gun control then the school’s going to go with it because it’s more of a popular view.”
Fox News reports that Benzel will return on Monday.
Rocklin School District’s chief of communications and community engagement, Diana Capra, said in a statement:
The teacher was not penalized or placed on leave based on her viewpoints. […] The district can clarify that the action was taken due to complaints from parents and students involving the teacher’s communications regarding… the student-led remembrance activities.
Benzel responded to those claims by pointing out “that just two students and one parent took issue with the discussion.” She said:
“I teach over 120 students and [administrators] took two students and one parent’s complaint and … took that minuscule evidence, did not corroborate it with any other students or parents and basically targeted me.”
The teacher’s debate got mixed reactions on social media. Commenters wrote:
Even the teacher is missing the point – this protest was about these kids. They are protesting for themselves, for their lives. If she wanted her 15 minutes of fame for bringing up her own belief – well then, she got it with pay.
— Steve Faculak (@sfaculak3) March 16, 2018
Everyone needs to STOP hating on this teacher. I don’t care what her political affiliations are, she has a much harder job than most ppl realize. It’s thankless and underpaid so let her have her voice (just like the kids had)!
— Judgement ?? (@McJudgeMuffin) March 16, 2018
Not on the job. If she wants to tweet about her views on abortion, or put the discussion in a post that’s about abortion that’s fine. But while on the job, to question these kids for their reason for marching and bring up abortion, that’s wrong. She should support them
— FrogDirt (@FrogDirt) March 16, 2018
She is a history teacher and she asked them if they thought if they were walking out to protest abortions as opposed to gun control do they think they would be allowed. Since the constitution is history as the first amendment it shows one ok one not
— Stacey Abraham (@StaceyAbraham9) March 16, 2018
In other words, she’s being punished for having a conservative viewpoint. Got it.
— Mike Mason (@MikeMason830) March 16, 2018
Teacher playing the victim when she’s the perpetrator.
— PacificBerry #WomensHistoryMonth (@PacificBerry) March 16, 2018
CBS 13 reports that Benzel has since retained legal counsel. She said the school’s decision has raised questions about first amendment rights.