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.

She said:

“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:

CBS 13 reports that Benzel has since retained legal counsel. She said the school’s decision has raised questions about first amendment rights.

About the author

Tiffani is a writer for Dearly. She is from New York City. Prior to working for Dearly she covered fashion news and managed social media for various digital media outlets.

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