Teachers can put whatever they like on the walls of their classrooms, and offer their own political commentary at will to their captive audiences.
But the virtual classroom of the COVID-19 era is changing that.
A New Jersey high schooler now says he was asked to leave a virtual class for refusing to remove a blue flag proclaiming “Trump 2020 Keep America Great” that was covering a window behind him and was visible to all in the class’s video chat format. He was also pressured by another teacher who called the banner “offensive” and a “distraction.”
Anthony Ribeiro told the Asbury Park Press about his Oct. 8 Toms River High School North class with chemistry teacher Andrew Gilman: “ … when he was taking attendance, he came to my name and there were at least 16 to 20 people on and he said, ‘Anthony, take the sign down right now, there is no room for politics in my classroom.’
“I didn’t say anything, and he said it again. I just shook my head no, and then he goes, ‘if you’re not going to get up and take it down I’m going to have to ask you to leave the class for today.’ I waved goodbye, and I was gone.”
His mom, Tara Jost, said: “It bothers me because it’s in my home. He is an honor roll student, and if it is in my home, for this teacher to tell him to take it down and then kick him out of class is absurd. I think they have to make an apology to my son.”
She called the school, and a vice principal returned her call and said that the teacher was in the wrong. “He was in agreement with me and said they were one hundred percent wrong. He said to leave it up.”
School district officials declined to comment apart from a statement saying that Ribeiro has the right to have the banner on his own wall and any effort to make him remove it is against district policy.
Ribeiro said the same chemistry teacher had expressed his own political beliefs earlier in the semester: “He made it a political subject talking about global warming and saying Democrats are the only choice you have to make for this because they look at facts and science.”
Gilman could not immediately be reached for comment.
Then, during an Oct. 9 English class with teacher Leslie Maryon-Larose, Ribeiro said he was asked again to take the banner down. The teacher, he said, called the banner a likely disruption. Ribeiro said he reluctantly agreed, fearing it might affect his grade if he did not.