A Los Gatos, Calif., math and science teacher says the U.S. Constitution justifies his decision to fail a student on a quiz for leaving class Wednesday for the National School Walkout, despite earlier promises from the superintendent and principal that students would not be punished for participating.
“When a publicly funded school promotes one side of a highly divisive political issue, we undermine the very constitution that protects the right we so cherish,” David Kissner, a math and science teacher at C.T. English Middle School, told The Mercury News on Sunday.
The National School Walkout encouraged high school and college students to leave class for 17 minutes Wednesday to honor the lives lost in a Parkland, Fla., school shooting Feb. 14 and to demand stronger gun laws. Tens of thousands of students across the U.S. participated in the event, some with permission from their schools and some without.
The Loma Prieta Joint Union Elementary School District in Santa Clara, south of San Jose, had encouraged students to take part in the walkout.
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“I did instruct teachers and school staff to not penalize any students who chose to walk out or give extra credit to anyone who did,” Superintendent Corey Kidwell told KNTV. But the father of a girl in Kissner’s middle school class said the teacher held a pop quiz during the walkout. His daughter finished as much of the quiz as possible before leaving class for the walkout, but Kissner refused to accept her test and gave her a failing grade, the father told the station.
“Never pull a pop quiz and penalize the kids that wanted to exercise their First Amendment rights,” he said. The father told KNTV he’s pulling his daughter from Kissner’s class and appealing the failing grade on the quiz.
Kissner denied making the quiz a surprise, telling The Mercury News that he warned students in advance there would be a test in honor of “Pi Day,” an unofficial holiday celebrated on March 14, when the date makes up the first three numbers of pi. He said the decision not to punish students for the protest Wednesday violated district policy.
“If they cut class to play basketball it should be the same consequence if they cut class to participate in a political activity. But there’s a consequence,” Kissner told the publication. He accused district administrators of flip-flopping on the National School Walkout, first saying the district would remain neutral, then encouraging students to leave class.
In Rocklin, California, northeast of Sacramento, history teacher Julianne Benzel told Fox News that she was placed on administrative leave for questioning whether the Rocklin Unified School District would also allow students to cut class to participate in the anti-abortion March for Life.
“If you’re going to allow students to get up and walk out without penalty, then you’re going to have to allow any group of students that wants to protest,” Benzel told the network.
District officials, however, told Fox News that Benzel was not punished for her pro-life comments but as a result of complaints about her handling of the walkout.
“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,” district spokesperson Diana Capra said in a statement.
A shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 in Parkland, Fla., has prompted national protests, many organized by survivors of the shooting, against gun laws and in favor of stronger gun laws. A national March for Our Lives has been planned for Saturday with the main march in Washington, D.C., and satellite marches across the country.