Cora Smith walked out of Winterset’s High School Tuesday with a bisexual pride flag draped over her shoulders.
The 10th grader was among more than 100 students who walked out a in protest over the school district placing seventh-grade literacy teacher Lucas Kaufmann on leave.
Kaufmann was placed on leave last week following a presentation about himself to his class featured the LGBT Pride flag, according to a www change org petition. When asked by students, Kaufmann said he was bisexual.
Nearly 1,500 people have signed the online petition. “We’re hoping that this will help Mr. Kaufmann,” Smith said.
Winterset Community School District Superintendent Justin Gross confirmed Kaufmann was placed on leave after concerns were raised following his presentation, but declined further comment. State law prohibits employers from firing employees based on sexual orientation and gender identification, which Gross acknowledged.
Kaufmann did not respond to a request for comment.
His presentation and personnel status were subject to a report by the Iowa Standard, a conservative website.
Courtney Reyes, executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy organization One Iowa, said the situation raises a red flag. She said more than 50% of LGBTQ professionals across the United States are not out at work due to fear of discrimination.
“We really hope this person is getting the support that they need and the community can get the support they need because that sends a really harmful message to the LGBTQ students in the district that they are not valid,” she said.
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The state’s largest teachers union could not comment specifically on Kaufmann’s case but said it supported teachers being open about their sexual orientation in classrooms.
“The ISEA believes an educator should be allowed to teach without hiding their identity,” said Jean Hessburg, Iowa State Education Association spokesperson.
The Winterset Community School District is located in Winterset, about 40 miles southwest of Des Moines. Students, standing outside of the school building said having teachers who share similar experiences can help them navigate their own identities. And they worried what the district’s decision would mean for LGBTQ students, especially those who are not publically out.
Winterset Junior High eight graders Dakota Clark and Amari Bonner hold homemade signs outside of the school, on Tuesday, Sep. 7, 2021, to show support for Lucas Kaufmann, a teacher who was put on administrative leave after using an image of a pride flag in a presentation to share information about himself with his students.
Savannah Charlet, who had Kaufmann as a teacher last year, said the district’s actions reflect poorly on the community.
“It’s showing how homophobic our town is and it’s not a good reputation for our school,” the eighth-grade student said. “It’s proving that kids cannot come out without punishment.”
Charlet said she and others were walking out because “teachers should have the right to be who they are.”
Kiona Newbrough, a 10th grader and author of the change.org petition, said the district needs more teachers like Kaufmann who can relate to LGBTQ students.
“When I was in junior high, it would have been great to have a bisexual teacher or someone that I would feel safe talking about my sexuality with,” she said.
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Eighth-grade student Amari Bonner said she feels it’s unfair if Kaufmann was placed on leave due to his presentation.
“Everyone’s mad at him for being who he is and I feel like that’s unfair and we should talk about that,” she said. “We should have some recognition and show people it’s not OK.”
Senior Jillian Simon said having a teacher who was out about their sexuality when she was in junior high would have helped her.
“Being able to have a teacher who was out and open would have shown us as students that it was OK to be out to be open, to be yourself, and it’s OK to love who you love,” she said.