go to content

A Teacher Was Put On Leave For Stepping On The US Flag During A Class

Lee Francis was teaching a lesson on a Supreme Court case on flag desecration being protected under the First Amendment.

Posted on

A history teacher at a North Carolina high school was placed on paid administrative leave Tuesday for stepping on the US flag during a lesson on the First Amendment.

Facebook

Lee Francis was teaching a junior-level American History class at Massey Hill Classical High School about Texas v. Johnson, in which the US Supreme Court upheld that the desecration of the Stars and Stripes was protected by the First Amendment, the Fayetteville Observer reported.

Both Francis and school officials confirmed to BuzzFeed News that he was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into the incident that took place on Monday.

Pete Horne, the assistant to the superintendent of Cumberland County Schools, told BuzzFeed News that the district began investigating Francis after receiving "an enormous amount of complaints" about his actions. Horne said the investigation would likely conclude on Wednesday.

A photo of Francis stepping on the flag spread on social media, after a parent — whose child was not present in the history class — took to Facebook to accuse Francis of "stomping" all over the flag and "disrespecting" it.

Facebook

In a now-deleted Facebook post that had more than 10,000 shares, Sara Taylor wrote that Francis asked his students for a lighter and a scissor to desecrate the flag. When he didn't get either, he "took the flag and stomped all over it," Taylor wrote. "He is saying this was teaching First Amendment rights."

Taylor said a few students left the classroom along with the flag and one student requested that it be properly taken care of.

"The flag might not mean anything to that teacher, but it means a lot to us and it means a lot to the family's [sic] who had their service member come home to them in a casket with that flag draped over it," Taylor wrote.

She said that the principal of the school "stood up" for Francis.

Francis told BuzzFeed News that he has since received hundreds of death threats, as well as "a lot of backlash" from the military community.

Facebook

"I've received a lot of backlash from the military community which is unfortunate because I have the utmost respect for our men and women in uniform and for our symbols," Francis told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday. "But I also have respect for the laws that make this country what it is."

He said he believed the backlash, and the school's action, was "racially-charged."

"If I didn't have the skin color I have maybe I wouldn't be in this position," he said, referring to an incident where a white high school teacher in North Carolina school was suspended only for a few days after she reportedly told a student that she would "kill all black people" if she had only 10 days to live.

According to Francis, he did not "stomp" on the flag. "It was a simple tap of the toe on the flag," he said.

Facebook

He said that the focus of the issue should not be on inanimate objects but on "larger issues in the community."

"At its core, it is a distraction from the issues we really need to be paying attention to, like the treatment of women, the land of Native Americans in North Dakota, and the killing and murdering of blacks in our society," he said.

Francis said he was meeting with school officials on Thursday. He said that he was not allowed to have contact with any teachers or students at Cumberland County Schools as part of his suspension.

"I have family members who are students and teachers and to talk to them would be a violation of my suspension," he said.

Horne, the superintendent's assistant, told BuzzFeed News that personnel issues could not be discussed.

However, Horne said the outcomes of such investigations could typically range from no action, to a temporary suspension or a demotion, to getting fired.

Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at tasneem.nashrulla@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.