RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif. – A middle school history teacher is retiring following a district investigation for hanging a Confederate flag with a Union flag in his classroom during a discussion on the Civil War.
Sutter Middle School history teacher Woody Hart was suspended with pay last Wednesday after district officials found a Confederate flag hanging in his classroom the night prior, KCRA reports.
The Folsom Cordova Unified School District posted a statement to its Facebook page Wednesday acknowledging the flag “was found across the room from a Civil War Union flag, potentially in preparation of a history activity” but removed the flag because “regardless of context, to many of our students, families and staff, the Confederate flag is a racist symbol of hate.”
“Any employee who is found to engage in behavior that creates an unsafe environment for students will face full consequences, including the possibility of initiating termination proceedings,” the statement read.
The next evening, a swarm of teachers and current and former students sounded off on the school board over Hart’s suspension, which marked the second district investigation into alleged “racial insensitivity” by the teacher. In November, a parent also complained about Hart referencing black lynchings during a different history lesson, ABC 10 reports.
“He always told us these weren’t his personal views, he was teaching what was in the history books,” former student Michelle Akin told the news site.
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“The union flag was there right next to the Confederate flag, he would show both,” said Aikin’s sister, Rachel Akin, who was also a former student of Hart’s.
“He’s personally my favorite teacher in the whole school,” student Ana Kneisely told CBS Sacramento.
“He’s always making sure everyone is participating,” she said. “He’s always making jokes and kind of making everyone feel welcome.”
Kneisely and others pointed out that the Confederate flag also appears in students’ textbooks, and said her teacher strived to present a balance view on history.
“I actually very much appreciated the way he taught history,” she said, “because I felt we were getting more involved than what our other classes did.”
FCUSD officials announced Hart’s retirement at last Thursday’s board meeting, where several people accused the school board of forcing the teacher out.
“(Thursday) in closed session, the Board of Education accepted this Sutter Middle School teacher’s retirement … and he will not be returning to school this year,” superintendent Deborah Bettencourt wrote in a statement.
Hart had taught in the district since 1999.
Bettencourt also issued a statement to staff that alleges officials “do not want to limit the free speech of our teachers,” KCRA reports.
“Our expectations, however, are that teachers and staff will do this work using culturally appropriate strategies,” Bettencourt wrote.