Missouri teacher quits after district orders pride flag removal


A Neosho teacher resigned last week after parents complained about a pride flag in his class and the district told him to withdraw it.

John M. Wallis, a graduate of Neosho High School and Webster University in St. Louis, was recently hired to teach speech, drama and world mythology at Neosho Junior High School.

He filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the US Department of Education. His last day with the district was Thursday, September 2.

In a series of tweets over the Labor Day weekend, Wallis explained what led to his release.

“At the start of the school year, I had two signs above my whiteboards that said ‘In this class everyone is welcome’ and an LGBTQ + pride flag on my bookshelf,” he said. he writes on Twitter. “This was an attempt to make my classroom more open and welcoming to all of my students and nothing was ever taught about the flag as it was there as a reflection of my classroom as a safe space for my students. LGBTQIA + students. “

Wallis, 22, said he was told last week that a parent had complained and that he was “going to teach his child to be gay.”

“I was then asked to remove my flag and my placards,” he wrote on Twitter. “In fact, the use of the pride flag in my class has been compared to the hanging of the Confederate flag in my class.”

He said removing the articles prompted the student to ask questions.

“I responded honestly by expressing that if the students had a problem with who I was, there were other courses open,” he wrote on Twitter. “This led to three or more calls from parents accusing me of pushing my agenda in the classroom.”

The News-Leader has contacted the district of Neosho for comment. Superintendent Jim Cummins said in writing: “As with all personnel matters, there is a limited amount of information that is allowed to be shared by the school district.

Cummins wrote that Wallis was hired on August 13, 2021 and resigned on September 1, 2021 by letter. In the letter, provided to the News-Leader, Wallis said he planned to “pursue a different career path”.

Letter from the Superintendent: “Our classrooms cannot become a personal platform to advance one’s personal agenda”

Wallis said he received a letter from Cummins on district letterhead that he was asked to read and sign.

In a copy Wallis provided to the News-Leader, Cummins wrote that the letter was sent to “document” a discussion Cummins and Wallis had on August 31.

The letter read: “Our classrooms cannot become a personal platform to advance one’s personal agenda. Your position in the Neosho School District is to teach speech and drama classes. You have been hired because we believe you were the best fit to do so.

“However, if you are not able to present the program in a way that keeps your personal agenda on sexuality out of your narrative and class discussions, we will end your employment.”

The letter ended with the following instructions:

  • “There will be no reference to sexuality or gender displayed in your classroom;”
  • “Your instructions and classroom conversations will stay away from discussions about human sexuality and / or sexual preferences; ” and
  • “Any given research or assignment should not require a topic related to the above. “

Wallis said his intention was to stay in the district for many years, but the letter was the “reason for my resignation.”

He has also been a coach for the middle and high school speech and debate teams.

“It seems like there is a different set of rules if you are an LGBTQ + educator,” Wallis said on Twitter. “Neosho doesn’t make any mention of gender identity or sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policy, and that’s pretty baffling. Add to that a policy banning anything that expresses a part of me in class, and that creates a hostile working environment. “

He added, “It’s never a problem when a straight teacher posts pictures of themselves and their spouses in a classroom, but I have a flag and all hell breaks loose.”

Following: LGBTQ Pride flags go beyond the classic rainbow. Here’s what each means

Wallis said he resigned effective September 30, but the district quickly found a replacement, so his last day was September 2.

State Representative Crystal Quade, a Democrat from Springfield, was one of many who responded to Wallis on Twitter. She reiterated her support for the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act, or MONA, a bill repeatedly tabled in the Missouri General Assembly.

Quade tweeted to Wallis: “Thank you for your dedication to our children. I am ashamed that this has happened and continues to happen in our state. You – and our children – deserve better. #MOleg must be on the safe side of history. MONA must become law and we must start putting ALL of our children first. “

Wallis said he was reluctant to speak out initially because he didn’t want his father – a longtime district employee with the same first and last name – to face a backlash.

Following: Two Springfield school workers sue district over mandatory fairness training

The 2017 graduate of Neosho High School was asked about his childhood in Neosho by the Riverfront Times in St. Louis while at Webster University, where he was pursuing undergraduate studies in history and the arts of music. speech and communication.

In the article published in December 2020, Wallis said he came to blame his hometown and alleged, among other things, that he faced threats in high school after hosting a Black Lives Matter event in 2016.

Wallis told the News-Leader that despite all of this, he felt a strong urge to go home. “The community and I disagree on a lot of things. I have said derogatory things out of anger in the past, but I came back to this neighborhood because I wanted to give back.”

He added that he felt targeted for being open about being a gay man. He added that the stress of the incident was overwhelming.

“My only happy moments were when I saw my students, and when I walked out of the building,” he said. “It was no longer an environment that was beneficial for my mental / emotional health or conducive to learning for my students.”

Following:

Claudette Riley is the News-Leader educational journalist. Email tips to criley@news-leader.com.


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