AR Grad Student Claims Schools Punished Him for Being Gay

By Jessi Turnure | jturnure@kark.com

Published 01/25 2016 11:09PM

Updated 01/25 2016 11:21PM

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - An Arkansas- based graduate student claims he cannot yet be a teacher because of his sexual orientation. 
 
Michael, who did not want to give his last name, said a "hostile work environment" made him resign from his internship at Osceola High School as a mathematics student teacher.
 
He said his resignation then forfeited his chances of receiving his teaching license when he graduated from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in December.
 
Michael said this all started with a poster he put up in his classroom: a rainbow peace sign with the saying, "Tolerance equals peace."
 
Four posters with similar messages about tolerance decorated his classroom walls. 
 
"The important thing in education is being tolerant of each other," Michael said. "We're all different in different ways and it is important that students understand that."
 
Michael said his students were tolerant of the posters until they saw the rainbow peace sign. 
 
"That was the one that drove the controversy from the church group of the assistant superintendent and the principal," he said. 
 
According to Michael, parents contacted the assistant superintendent and principal after the first day of school, saying they found the poster offensive. 
 
"'This isn't the place to promote that agenda,'" he said. "That was their words."
 
Michael is gay, but said he never mentioned it in front of his students. 
 
"I was under explicit orders not to talk about it and I never did," he said. "It had nothing to do with mathematics."
 
Likewise, he said the poster had nothing to do with a gay agenda. 
 
"Tolerance equals peace," Michael said. "There's nothing gay about that. That's just true."
 
He said school officials made him take down the poster and described the next month as a "hostile work environment."
 
Michael said that led to his resignation in September and he and the school district signing a separation agreement, which then caused problems with UALR. 
 
"They said they would not put me in another internship nor am I allowed to come back to UALR to do an internship," he said. 
 
That is why he graduated with a Master of Curriculum and Instruction degree without a teaching license, even though he passed the PLT exam. 
 
Michael said UALR blamed it on a "pattern of misconduct," yet he claimed he received nothing but flying colors at his last two student teacher positions. 
 
"It makes me feel like less of a human," he said. "Everybody else has their advocate. Where's mine?"
 
This issue cannot be solved with a simple mathematics equation, but Michael said the answer is simple: "No tolerance equals no peace." 
 
Osceola Superintendent Michael Cox denied any discrimination based on Michael's sexual orientation. 
 
UALR confirmed he was enrolled in the Fall 2015 semester and graduated in December.
 
Michael is filing a Title IX complaint, while he pursues a Master of Mathematics Education degree and works as a TA at another school. 
 
"I am moving forward, but this just isn't fair," he said. "I can't seem to make this wrong right no matter how hard I try."
 
Michael said when he secures his first permanent teaching job, the posters will not be coming to the classroom with him. 
 
"I'm just too afraid to cause that kind of controversy again," he said. 

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