IRVING (CBSDFW.COM) - Carrying rainbow flags, hundreds of students walked out of Irving's MacArthur High School on Sept.22, protesting what they describe as targeted discrimination against the campus' gay students and teachers.
Many of those marching wore heart-shaped rainbow stickers on their face and clothes, a symbol many teachers at the campus have used during the past year to signal their classrooms are a safe space for LGBTQ students. But several weeks ago, the stickers suddenly disappeared. It was evident to students and teachers that someone had scraped them off windows and doors.
One teacher reported a Safe Space poster she had printed and laminated was missing from outside her classroom too. "I was freaked. The kids were freaked out," said Rachel Stonecipher, an English teacher and sponsor of the campus' Gay Straight Alliance. Students, she said, immediately wondered who had removed them and what message their disappearance was sending.
"I was a little scared too because I'm the only openly, very obviously gay teacher, lesbian teacher," said Stonecipher. She and at least four other teachers signed an e-mail to the principal asking for an explanation.
In a memo to staff, the district said, "We want to send a different tone this year. The district's position is that our responsibility is to make campuses a safe zone for all students, not just in our classrooms, but on every inch of our campus."
In a statement to CBS11, a spokesperson said it is policy "teachers shall not use the classroom to transmit personal beliefs regarding political or sectarian issues."
Students, though, told trustees during a school board meeting this week the stickers helped them know which teachers they could approach for help.
The situation has only grown more tense, as students say the administration began questioning them. "People including myself started getting called into the office randomly," sophomore Alyssa Harbin told school board members. She described sitting at the head of a table for 45 minutes in what felt like a "long, drawn out interrogation."
While Harbin said she was assured she hadn't done anything wrong, those questioned appeared to have one thing in common. "All of these randomly selected people have been to at least one Gay Straight Alliance meeting making it feel extremely targeted," she said at the meeting.
Students said they also became alarmed after seeing Stonecipher escorted off campus last week. "GSA students are also extremely concerned for one of our sponsors, Ms. Stonecipher," junior Breanna Belvin told trustees. Belvin said Stonecipher was removed from class last week by administrators and no one has seen her since.
At Wednesday's protest, some students held up signs with her name expressing support for her. Neither the district nor Stonecipher could answer questions about her removal or employment status.
"I'm fine. The kids don't need to be concerned about me," she said. No matter what, she said, she and fellow teachers at the school remain their allies.
"Look, this job is way too hard, way too hard to be a teacher for us not to be here because we care," she said.
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