NEOSHO, Mo. - A Missouri teacher resigned last week after parents complained about a pride flag in his classroom and the district told him to take it down.
John M. Wallis was recently hired to teach speech, theatre and world mythology at Neosho Junior High School. He has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.
In a series of tweets over Labor Day weekend, Wallis explained what led to his exit.
"At the beginning of the school year, I had two signs above my whiteboards that read 'In this classroom everyone is welcome' and an LGBTQ+ pride flag on my bookshelf," he wrote on Twitter. "This was an attempt to make my classroom more open and welcoming for all of my students and nothing was ever taught about the flag because it stood there as a reflection of my classroom as a safe space for my LGBTQIA+ students."
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Wallis, 22, said he was told last week that a parent complained and alleged that he was "going to teach their child to be gay."
"I was then instructed to take my flag and signs down," he wrote on Twitter. "In fact, the use of the pride flag in my classroom was compared to hanging the Confederate flag in my classroom."
He said taking down the items prompted students to ask questions.
"I answered truthfully while expressing that, if students had a problem with who I was, there were other open classes," he wrote on Twitter. "This led to three or more calls from parents accusing me of pushing my agenda in the classroom."
In a statement to the News-Leader, Superintendent Jim Cummins wrote: "As per all personnel matters, there is a limited amount of information that is allowed to be shared by the school district."
Cummins wrote Wallis was hired Aug. 13, 2021 and resigned Sept. 1, 2021 by letter. In that letter, provided to the News-Leader, Wallis said he planned to "pursue a different career path."Classroom controversy:Teacher removed from class after suggesting student pledge allegiance to LGBTQ Pride flag
Wallis said he received a letter from Cummins on district letterhead that he was asked to read and sign.
In a copy Wallis provided to the News-Leader, Cummins wrote that the letter was sent to "document" a discussion Cummins and Wallis had on Aug. 31.
The letter stated: "Our classrooms cannot become a personal platform for pushing one's personal agenda. Your position in the Neosho School District is to teach speech and drama classes. You were hired because we believe you were the best candidate to do such.
"However, if you are unable to present the curriculum in a manner that keeps your personal agenda on sexuality out of your narrative and the classroom discussions, we will ultimately terminate your employment."
- "There will be no references to sexuality or gender displayed in your classroom;"
- "Your instruction and classroom conversations will stay clear of discussions regarding human sexuality and/or sexual preference;" and
- "Any research or assignments given should not require a topic related to the above."
The letter concluded with the following instructions:
Wallis said his intention had been to stay with the district for many years but the letter was the "reason for my resignation."
He was also a coach for the junior high and high school speech and debate teams.
"It appears that there is a different set of rules if you are an LGBTQ+ educator," Wallis said on Twitter. "Neosho has no mention of gender identity or sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policy, and that is disconcerting enough. Couple that with a policy banning anything that expresses part of me in the classroom, and it makes for a hostile work environment."
He added: "There is never a problem when a heterosexual teacher displays pictures of themselves and their spouses in a classroom but I have a flag and all hell breaks loose."
Wallis said he resigned effective Sept. 30 but the district quickly found a replacement, so his final day was Sept. 2.
State Rep. Crystal Quade, a Democrat from Springfield, Missouri, was one of many who responded to Wallis on Twitter. She reiterated her support for the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, or MONA, proposed legislation repeatedly filed in the Missouri General Assembly.
Wallis said he was reluctant to speak out initially because he didn't want his father - a longtime district employee with the same first and last name - to face any backlash.
The 2017 graduate of Neosho High School was interviewed about growing up in Neosho by the Riverfront Times in St. Louis while at Webster University, where he was pursuing undergraduate degrees in history and speech and communication arts.
In the article, published in December 2020, Wallis said he came to resent his hometown and alleged, among other things, that he faced threats in high school after organizing a Black Lives Matter event in 2016.
Wallis told the News-Leader that despite all those events, he felt a strong pull to go home. "The community and I disagree on a lot of things. I have said some disparaging things out of anger in the past, but I came back to this district because I wanted to give back."
He added that he felt targeted for being open about being a gay man. He added the stress of the incident has been overwhelming.Follow Claudette Riley on Twitter:
"My only happy moments were the ones in which I saw my students, and when I was leaving the building," he said. "It was no longer an environment that was beneficial to my mental/emotional health nor was it conducive to learning for my students."