A public charter school in Lehi has suspended a fourth grade teacher who identifies as queer after a video surfaced in which the educator describes several discussions with former students that a school official says are “inappropriate.”
The students, now in fifth grade, “come visit me almost every day after school and a lot of them are queer because I am queer. So, they figured it out and so I’ve become their safe space,” the educator says in the TikTok video.
Mark Ursic, executive director of Renaissance Academy, said in a statement Monday that the school became aware of the video posted to social media on Friday.
“In the video, the teacher describes several inappropriate conversations with former students. The employee has been placed on administrative leave pending a thorough investigation. Our teachers are expected to comport themselves with the highest degree of professionalism. Behavior that is unprofessional, in violation of state code, or that violates the trust placed in us by the families of Renaissance Academy will not be tolerated,” Ursic said.
Renaissance Academy serves about 750 students in grades K-8. According to the Utah State Board of Education licensing database, the educator has been licensed to teach in Utah since 2019, and has had a Local Education Agency license to teach at Renaissance Academy since fall 2020.
In the video, the teacher says, “I’m so happy that they are figuring out who they are and that they’re happy with who they are and they’ve found safe space. But man, I could never imagine being in fifth grade saying these things out loud, even though I know they’re all OK. I grew up super religious where nothing was OK. And so seeing this happen.” The educator then screams and then cheers “Yeah!”
At the start of the school year, a Lehi High School science teacher made headlines after a cellphone video of the educator expressing her political opinions to students in her classroom on the first day of school came to light.
In the video, apparently filmed surreptitiously by a student, the teacher used profanity, expressed exhaustion with the pandemic and she told her students that they don’t need to believe what their parents believe because “most of ya’lls’ parents are dumber than you.”
She also told students if they didn’t believe in climate change, they should “get the hell out.”
The Alpine School District officials said in a statement that the veteran educator’s behavior was “inappropriate, not reflective of the professional conduct and decorum we expect of our teachers, and will not be tolerated.”
The teacher no longer works for the school district, although the school district’s statement did not specify at the time whether the educator had resigned or was fired.
Although K-12 teachers have free speech rights, there are limitations in the school setting.
“Speech in the classroom does not have the same First Amendment protection as speech by a private individual outside of a school setting. School districts have the authority to control the content, curriculum and methodology adopted by school staff,” according to an ACLU guide titled Free Speech Rights of Public and Charter School Teachers and Staff in Utah.
Alpine School District’s code of conduct states that employees and volunteers are expected to act professionally.
“This includes communicating in a civil manner and not promoting personal opinions, issues or political positions as part of the instructional process in a manner inconsistent with the law,” according to the code.
Renaissance Academy is not an Alpine District school. It has its own board of directors.