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Protestors say embattled Irving High School teacher who put up rainbow stickers should keep her job

IMG_8399.JPG Woman at a distance addresses a crowd of a few dozen facing her as she holds a microphone outside, as the sun is going down.
Bill Zeeble
Teacher Rachel Stonecipher addresses supporters outside Irivng ISD’s administration building. The district removed her for posting rainbow stickers. They said it carried an agenda and the move could hurt students. She said the district’s removal of the stickers is what hurt students.

Teacher Rachel Stonecipher was removed from MacArthur High School eight months ago because the school said the stickers supporting LGBTQ students made other students feel "unsafe."

More than 30 supporters rallied in the Irving ISD administration parking lot Monday night ahead of a school board meeting where trustees were to discuss firing Rachel Stonecipher.

Protestors held signs reading "Support inclusive teachers" and "Firing excellent teachers is the wrong lesson." They chanted "Who do we support? Rachel Stonecipher!" Members of the Texas Faculty Association, the Dallas Resource Center, the American Federation of Teachers and the Dallas Socialists were there to show support for the English and journalism teacher.

James Whitfield was among several who spoke on Stonecipher's behalf. The former Colleyville principal, who is Black, resigned his post after he was accused of teaching critical race theory, which is not a part of any Texas high school curriculum.

He said his case and Stonecipher's were similar. Her backers say she was removed because she's openly gay and supported LGBTQ students. She put up rainbow stickers in class last fall, intending to mark the room as a safe space.

The district removed the stickers and justified the move in a statement.

"Labeling certain classrooms as safe havens for certain groups could communicate to students who do not see themselves reflected in that classroom's decorations that they are unwanted or unsafe in those rooms," said part of that statement.

Stonecipher, who was the advisor for the Gay Student Alliance and the school newspaper, was transferred to another school. She was removed from that classroom earlier this month.

She challenged the district's statement Monday night.

"Those stickers were not endangering students," she said. "We have no evidence that they ever endangered or made students feel unsafe, ever. What did feel unsafe was when they came down."

During the school board meeting, more than a dozen people spoke on Stonecipher's behalf, including her mother. All the speakers demanded Stonecipher get her job back.

"Back in October, when I thought if we stick up for ourselves, maybe we can change the way things are happening. And wow, was I wrong," said 15-year-old sophomore Lola Dempsey.

"It's April and Ms. Stonecipher never got her job back. That fact that not even my teachers can be safe at their job is completely disheartening. Your schools will never be a safe space for queer students. Your schools aren't even a safe space for people of color."

The board was expected to make a final determination and announce it after closed session. But they said nothing on the matter before adjourning the meeting.

Stonecipher said she expects she'll be officially fired Wednesday after a scheduled meeting.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.