'Take the Posters Down': Texas Teacher Put on Leave Over Virtual BLM and LGBTQ Decor

Taylor Lifka, an English teacher in Roma, Texas, was placed on paid administrative leave after displaying Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ posters in her virtual classroom. A school official asked her to remove the posters before the school year commenced, saying "Please take the posters down," but she politely declined.

According to the Texas Tribune, the Roma High School assistant principal asked Lifka to take down the posters on Sunday, prior to students starting off the year. "I guess once that happened, I knew that it might be a rocky road, but considering being put on leave? I never really thought that that was going to be their first step," she told the Tribune. The teacher also displayed a picture of her virtual classroom on social media.

The school district placed her on leave after concerns from parents came in that Sunday evening. In a statement released Wednesday, the school district said that it took required actions to properly review the complaints against Lifka. "It is the practice of Roma ISD to diligently review all parent concerns. In this case, the timing in which information was received by the District (over the weekend) made it necessary for the District to place Ms. Lifka on leave until we could fully and responsibly review this matter," said the Roma ISD statement. The school also made it clear that the action wasn't intended to be a "punishment or admonishment" towards the teacher.

In an email to Newsweek, Lifka said that she was devastated and confused when put on leave. "I was hurt. Most[ly] due to the lack of information - I was never actually told the reason for this decision. I was simply told that during this time the correct people would be 'reviewing my online teaching materials.' The ambiguity there was alarming, especially because school hadn't even begun on Sunday when this all unfolded... At the end of the day, I don't know what it's like to be in a position like they were, and if they felt they needed to put me on a temporary leave, because there simply wasn't enough time to review this and have an honest conversation then say that. The district keeps putting out statements claiming I was never reprimanded, but I wasn't there to start the school year with my kids, and the effects of all of all this are heavy. To say I haven't been reprimanded is just honestly disrespectful to me as a teacher who has poured her heart and soul into this district over the past three years," she said.

The school also announced that Lifka had been reinstated on Tuesday and can keep the posters in the virtual classroom given that the graphic "does not come to overly disrupt or detract from the educational process or the learning environment."

Lifka told the Tribune that she didn't intend on returning unless the school supported "anti-racist policies and tolerance in our classrooms." She requested additional training and guidance for staff about inclusion.

In its statement, the school district assured its commitment to diversity and inclusion. "The District stands behind the concepts of equality and inclusivity. Roma ISD has committed itself to further evaluating and, if needed, putting into place new and more extensive written policies promoting equality, acceptance and student welfare. The District is also committed to evaluating and conducting supplemental staff and employee training on these subjects," the statement said.

In an email, an official for the school district said that it looked forward to further discussions with staff that seek change. "The district looks forward to starting talks with her today on next steps towards those goals and work with her, and other staff that may want to be involved, on what she/they believe would be needed to strengthen or modify policies and procedures we have in place; and what trainings may be needed for staff," an official told Newsweek in an email, noting that most discussions will be virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "True change or adaptation of policies, procedures or trainings will take time and planning as we just started fully virtual school on Monday."

Lifka said that she hopes that this leads to concrete changes and the hope to foster an inclusive learning environment for students in the district.

"What in the world was all of this for even for only to put me back in that space without any conversation as to what this really was all about? In an ideal world, I would love to see the district commit to anti-racist policies and to make a public statement that not only will they stand by teachers creating spaces centered around tolerance, but that they expect all teachers to be vocalizing this not only through visuals but through action. I would love to see a commitment to the creation of a DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) team at the district, and a promise to work toward a better tomorrow. But I know that change is a process. For now, I want the district to listen. This fight is not Taylor Lifka vs. Roma ISD. This fight is about our kids and our community and an entire nation that feels a need to be heard. There is a reason that the petition created has accumulated nearly 30,000 signatures in less that 72 hours," Lifka wrote.

In response to Lifka being placed on paid leave, The Roma High School Student Council released a statement in support of her, and a Change.org petition was launched calling for her reinstatement.

Lifka said that the support from her students and other voices has reaffirmed her pride in her school district. "There have been many times where I felt like I was alone in this fight, but the support and the outcry from individuals heard all over the nation has reaffirmed why so many of us commit our lives to this work, whether in the classroom or outside of it. The students at Roma High School are the future leaders of this nation, and they will leave their mark on this world. Being their teacher is the greatest honor of my life. I am proud to say that I work at Roma ISD, because I am proud of my students who have used their voices to generate a movement in a small town of [Texas] heard all the way across this nation," she wrote.

Black Lives Matter
A woman waves a Black Lives Matter flag during a far-right rally on August 15, 2020 near the downtown of Stone Mountain, Georgia. A Texas teacher was placed on paid administrative leave after displaying a Black Lives Matter poster in her virtual classroom. Getty/Lynsey Weatherspoon