A Missouri teacher who said he was told to remove a Pride flag and not discuss topics related to sexual identity has resigned and filed a lawsuit against the school district.
John M. Wallis, who had recently been hired at Neosho Junior High School to teach speech, theater and world mythology, argued in a lengthy Twitter thread over the weekend that school administrators “chose to believe the bigotry of parents over their building's teacher.”
“To say I am devastated is an understatement,” the 22-year-old added.
Wallis went on to say that a parent initially complained after he displayed a Pride flag on his bookshelf and a sign reading, "In This Classroom EVERYONE is Welcome.”
“This was an attempt to make my classroom more open and welcoming for all of my students, and nothing was ever taught about the flag because it stood there as a reflection of my classroom as a safe space for my LGBTQIA+ students,” he wrote on Twitter.
Wallis, who said the parent claimed “I was going to teach their child to be gay,” added that he was “then instructed to take my flag and signs down.”
“This of course prompted students to ask why, and I answered truthfully while expressing that, if students had a problem with who I was, there were other open classes,” he wrote, adding that the conversation “led to three or more calls from parents accusing me of pushing my agenda in the classroom.”
At the beginning of the school year, I had two signs above my whiteboards that read "In This Classroom EVERYONE is Welcome" and an LGBTQ+ pride flag on my bookshelf.— John M. Wallis (He/Him) (@MrJWallis) September 5, 2021
Wallis said he ultimately decided to resign after the school district asked him to sign a letter “that stated I would not discuss human sexuality or my own personal sexuality in the classroom and could have no displays or coursework on those subjects.”
According to a copy of the letter shared with the Springfield News-Leader, district Superintendent Jim Cummins wrote, "Our classrooms cannot become a personal platform for pushing one's personal agenda. Your position in the Neosho School District is to teach speech and drama classes.”
"If you are unable to present the curriculum in a manner that keeps your personal agenda on sexuality out of your narrative and the classroom discussions, we will ultimately terminate your employment,” Cummins reportedly added.
Wallis tweeted that while he “had every intention of staying with this district for years to come,” the situation had become “too much to handle.”
“This experience has helped me realize that this is clearly not a place for me,” he added.
Neosho has no mention of gender identity or sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policy, and that is disconcerting enough. Couple that with a policy banning anything that expresses part of me in the classroom, and it makes for a hostile work environment.— John M. Wallis (He/Him) (@MrJWallis) September 5, 2021
The News-Leader reported that Wallis has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights over Neosho’s nondiscrimination policy, which Wallis noted over the weekend “has no mention of gender identity.”
Cummins said in a statement shared with The Hill that Wallis was hired in mid-August and submitted his resignation on Sept. 1.
“As per all personnel matters, there is a limited amount of information that is allowed to be shared by the school district,” Cummins added.