Oklahoma middle school teacher says he was fired for Pride flags in classroom

7th grade science teacher Tyler Rathe is just the latest teacher to be fired over LGBTQ+ representation in class

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer

Published April 20, 2022 11:28AM (EDT)

A detail photo of a collection of small Pride Flags, and Transgender Pride Flags. (Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)
A detail photo of a collection of small Pride Flags, and Transgender Pride Flags. (Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

A Tulsa, Oklahoma middle school teacher was allegedly fired after refusing to remove Pride flags from his classroom. 

Last Friday, Tyler Rathe, a seventh grade science teacher at Jenks Middle School, lost his job after displaying a number of flags representing his students' identities and countries of origin, according to KWGS. Initially, Rathe was put on administrative leave but was subsequently sacked after rejecting the school's request to take the flags down. 

The ACLU has strongly objected to Rathe's firing, arguing in a Tuesday letter to the school's superintendent that the move was "unlawful" and "discriminatory."

"The administration's termination of Mr. Rathe for failure to remove Pride flags from a 2SLGBTQ+ teacher's classroom, unguided by any written policy, is an inherently arbitrary and prejudiced attack on free speech and free association," wrote staff attorney Hanna Roberts. "Erasing 2SLGBTQ+ imagery from the classroom will never erase  2SLGBTQ+ students or teachers, but it will certainly send a clear message to the Jenks Public Schools' 2SLGBTQ+ community – you are not welcome; your identity is not valued here."

According to KWGS, Roberts has not retained the ACLU to represent him in any legal challenge. 

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Jenks Public Schools Communications Director Rob Loeber has suggested that Rathe's allegations are "not factually accurate" but declined to provide any more details, citing the school's confidentiality policies.

"Jenks Public Schools would be in violation of confidentiality laws if employment records are disclosed. All employees deserve dignity and respect," Loeber said. "Details of employment records will not be discussed or shared by JPS in a public forum. Employment actions taken by Jenks Public Schools are never based on discriminatory reasons. JPS adheres to non-discrimination policies in all personnel matters."

Rathe is just the latest educator to be fired over concerns around LGBTQ+ representation in the classroom. 

Last week, a former Missouri high school teacher lost her job for passing out a worksheet titled "How Racially Privileged Are You?" And in December, a former high school teacher was similarly sacked after stating to his all-white classroom that white privilege was "a fact."

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By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik is a staff writer at Salon. His work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Baffler, and The New York Daily News.

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