Minneapolis teacher who wore 'Trump 2020' face mask put on leave as district investigates

It happened May 25, on the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's murder.
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A Minneapolis teacher who wore a Trump-related face mask to school on Tuesday – the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's murder – has been placed on leave, and the district is investigating.

The incident first gathered attention Tuesday evening, when a member of a Facebook group for parents of Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) students posted about it, Rachael Flanery told Bring Me The News. A student at the school told their parent the teacher, who does physical education at Lake Nokomis Community School's Keewaydin campus, was wearing a face covering in class that said "Trump 2020."

Comments quickly piled up, and the post was removed within about an hour of its publishing, said Flanery, whose son is a student at Keewaydin.

“I would like to see him removed," she said of the teacher in question. "And I would like to see the district say he’s removed, say why he’s removed, and let that be a message for all the other teachers … who feel the same way, and feel they have impunity to harm our students with perpetuating white supremacy.”

Keewaydin's principal, Kristi Ward, declined a request for comment. Ward, however, did send an email to parents of Keewaydin students Wednesday afternoon, noting "allegations have been raised about one of our teachers wearing a Trump mask on the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd." 

"We take these allegations and their impact on students very seriously," she wrote, adding the district is investigating a complaint related to the allegation and that the teacher had been placed on leave.

Ward's message continued: "Every student in our school deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Creating a welcoming, affirming culture is part of our ongoing work at our school, including addressing bias, racism and microaggressions throughout the school."

The teacher, who also teaches health at Washburn High School, declined to answer questions, telling Bring Me The News he can't comment on a pending investigation.

The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59, meanwhile, said the teacher in question was not a member, but added it "is committed to providing a safe, welcoming and effective learning environment for every student in the Minneapolis Public Schools, no matter what they look like or where they’re from.”

Minneapolis Public Schools, on its social media Wednesday, acknowledged it had received a complaint related to a Trump face mask and said it was investigating, adding: "We want to be clear: Every student in our school deserves to be treated with respect and dignity."

After a request for comment Thursday, a district spokesperson told Bring Me The News that " due to data privacy laws and wanting to conduct a full and fair investigation, we cannot provide any additional information related to the investigation."

MPS policies posted online don't appear to bar teachers from wearing clothing or accessories that contain political statements or references to candidates, campaigns or elected officials. However, there are policies related to posters, flyers or third-party publications that have such references. 

MPS, when asked for clarification regarding its policies, said that while it can't speak to this specific situation due to the investigation, said the district "does not encourage or support campaigns in our schools." 

"It has always been our guidance and expectation that while we encourage people to vote, MPS staff should not display what their voting will be," the spokesperson continued.

In a 2016 post, education law attorney Gregory Madsen explained that, while teachers cannot compel students or parents to vote a certain way on an issue or candidate, wearing a politically oriented button isn't automatically barred. School districts have the power to ban them, however.

Flanery said she felt the choice to wear a Trump mask meant to "make a point," adding: "Everyone knows what Trump 2020 stands for these days."

She said she spoke to her son about it at dinner, acknowledging it was "probably a hurtful and insensitive choice to make on a day that means so much to the world, but especially to our community, where it happened."

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