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Teacher Gets Fired For Wearing “Black Lives Matter” Face Mask In School

October 1st, 2020 Miheret Hasenu

Great Hearts Western Hills, a public charter school in San Antonio, Texas, faced intense criticism after firing an employee for wearing a Black Lives Matter face mask to work. According to a CNN article, Lillian White, an art teacher at the school, lost her job for wearing a face mask that displayed “Silence is Violence” and “Black Lives Matter” messages across the front.  Considering the current social movement surrounding racial issues in the country, White explained that she wanted to show her support for her Black students and fellow faculty members. The school, however, had a different reaction than White expected. 

The School’s Response to White’s BLM Face Mask

According to the article, Great Hearts reopened in the summer for in-person workdays for teachers and some faculty. White told CNN that after wearing her mask for two weeks, she received a message from an administrator telling her that she should stop wearing her mask because the school does not “discuss the current political climate on campus” and out of fear of how parents will react. White, however, continued to wear her mask to work until she was terminated a month later. The superintendent gave a statement to CNN saying the school’s decision was simply made about “policy and not the Black community” and that Great Hearts stands against racism and injustice. 

White refused to stop wearing her mask because she believes “this is a human rights issue” and out of consideration for the racial injustice that her students experience in school. An example of this is in the achievement gap between white and black students in schools. She understood the risk she was taking by not following the school’s rule but realized that the injustice at hand was far greater. While she received support from some of her colleagues at the school, White mentioned that no one defended her when she was fired. 

Laws on Freedom of Expression in Schools 

Employees have the right to exercise their First Amendment rights by wearing expressive clothing in school as long as it “doesn’t disrupt the functioning of the school or violate the school’s content-neutral policies,” according to the ACLU Texas website. This constitutional standard is also upheld throughout New York public schools. Although schools have the right to regulate speech, it is further highlighted on the website that the term “disruptive” cannot be justified in a context where school officials simply disagree with a particular teacher or student’s stance. So, in order to be “content-neutral,” a school policy must ban all politically-charged speech rather than only banning certain viewpoints. In White’s case, students had not yet returned to school. Apart from social media comments from some parents, her supporters argue that her face mask was not offensive and did not give rise to “substantial disruption or prompted drug use” like the law entails.

Seek Legal Assistance Today 

If you were wrongfully terminated from your job, seek legal assistance from the Working Solutions Law Firm, located in New York City. Contact us today at (646) 430-7930 to schedule a free case evaluation and receive experienced legal counsel.