California Teacher Placed on Administrative Leave after Pointing Out Political Nature of School Walkouts

Students from South Plantation High School carrying signs in protest in support of gun control in Plantation, Florida, February 21, 2018. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

A California high-school teacher has been placed on administrative leave after questioning whether political bias played a role in her employer’s support for the nationwide school walkout in favor of gun control.

Julianne Benzel, a history teacher in Rocklin, Calif., told the local CBS affiliate that she felt it was important to discuss the way in which politics informs organized protest in the days leading up to the pro-gun-control walkout.

“We had a dialogue in class about it on Thursday and Friday. And today I received the call. So I am aghast,” Benzel said.

Benzel explained that she did not discourage students from attending the gun-control walkout, which was organized by a subsidiary of the liberal Women’s March, to both commemorate the one-month anniversary of the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla. and call for stricter gun-control laws.

“And so I just kind of used the example which I know it’s really controversial, but I know it was the best example I thought of at the time — [if] a group of students nationwide, or even locally, decided, ‘I want to walk out of school for 17 minutes’ and go in the quad area and protest abortion, would that be allowed by our administration?”

Benzel claims she hasn’t received an explanation for the school’s decision to place her on administrative leave, and a school spokeswoman declined to elaborate when contacted about the incident.

“A Rocklin High School teacher has been placed on paid administrative leave due to several complaints from parents and students involving the teacher’s communications regarding today’s student-led civic engagement activities,” the spokeswoman said in a statement provided to the CBS affiliate.

The spurned teacher is optimistic that the school walkout will prompt a national conversation about the importance of protest and the First Amendment. In the meantime, she has retained a representative to help in her dealings with administrators.

“If you’re going to allow students to walk up and get out of class without penalty then you have to allow any group of students that wants to protest [to do so],” she said.