FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) – A teacher’s First Amendment lesson at a Fayetteville high school has sparked outrage and he has been place on leave by school officials.
Lee Francis, a teacher at Massey Hill Classical High School, said he put an American flag on the ground and stepped on it. But, he said, it was in the context of a lesson on freedom of speech.
“I put it on the ground and I used my right foot and I took two steps on it, and immediately two kids get out of the room,” he said.
A number of residents denounced Francis’ actions, calling them unpatriotic.
“I think it’s inappropriate to teach that in school,” said Fayetteville resident Grayson Chavonne. “If he wants to do that in his own home that’s his prerogative, but it doesn’t need to be taught to our kids.”
Even a top school system administrator has weighed in.
“Clearly, there are other ways to teach First Amendment rights without desecrating the flag,” said Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Frank Till said in a statement released Tuesday.
Dan Travieso, who is running for the N.C. Senate in District 21, called Francis’ lesson a direct insult to those who fought for our country and a “poor choice of judgment.”
“Just because I step on the flag doesn’t mean I step on their graves,” Francis said. “It doesn’t mean I step on their bodies as they return from overseas. It means I step on a piece of fabric.”
On Tuesday night, Francis confirmed to CBS North Carolina that he had been placed on paid administrative leave.
Francis said he’s been shocked by the backlash, both in-person and on social media, that his lesson has generated.
“We have a level of students that are mature and are expected to be mature,” he said. “So no, that was not the reaction I was expecting.”
Francis has hired an attorney.
Francis won’t be charged, officials said. While a state law makes desecrating the flag a misdemeanor, constitutional guarantees of free speech trump that statute.