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Romney T-Shirt Controversy Sparks Rally Outside Port Richmond School; Teacher Speaks Out

By Paul Kurtz, Mike DeNardo and Nicole Brewer

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - A 16-year-old high school student who says she was humiliated for wearing a Mitt Romney t-shirt returned to the classroom this morning, with some support.

Samantha Pawlucy hasn't been in class since September 28th, when this whole t-shirt incident blew up in her geometry class. Pawlucy says her teacher Lynette Gaymon (who is African-American) compared her pink Romney t-shirt to Gaymon wearing a KKK shirt and told her to take it off. The 16-year-old says she felt so humiliated she didn't want to go back to school.

A group of supporters greets Samantha Pawlucy as she returns to school. (Credit: Paul Kurtz)

Well, she went back this morning and when she arrived, Samantha had a lot of supporters, who say she's had her First Amendment rights trampled. They held a rally and recited the Pledge of Allegiance as she entered the school.

The School District of Philadelphia has issued a statement describing the incident as "disruptive and hurtful" and particularly distressing to the Pawlucy family, whose daughter was targeted for simply expressing herself by wearing a t-shirt.

READ: Statement from the School District of Philadelphia

The teacher in this controversy is now speaking out. In a letter being read to students by the principal, this morning, Lynette Gaymon says:

"First of all, I'm very sorry for all the chaos and negative attention that has surrounded the school in the past couple of weeks. What I meant as a light and humorous remark during class has developed into a huge conflict between students, faculty, parents and neighbors. My words were never meant to belittle Ms. Pawlucy, or cause any harm, and I truly regret that we have come to this point."

"I firmly believe in the right to freedom of speech and expression. I have always taught you to be unafraid of who you are and to be unafraid to express your beliefs. Anyone who has ever been in my classroom knows that when we have disagreements we are expected to talk through them, and work out our differences in a civilized and calm manner."

"Because I have always encouraged you to resolve your differences through conversation, I'm very disturbed by the negative and hateful words and messages that have been directed at Sam Pawlucy. The bullying of Sam -- on Facebook, Twitter, or otherwise -- has to stop."

"I hope we can take this whole unfortunate incident, and use it as a lesson in how to agree without being disagreeable. Freedom of speech is everyone's right. But let's use it to have discussions that help us to better understand each other, not rip each other apart. I hope we've all learned that lesson."

"The Carroll students that I know have always supported each other, even when they have disagreements. This is a very rough time for Sam, and she needs that support from you now more than ever. Let's get back to being the school where we care for each other, and where we show up for school on time, in uniform and ready to work!"

"Have a good day, go to all of your classes and get all of your credits now!"

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