(CNN) — The mother of a Michigan high school student with same-sex parents alleges her daughter’s English teacher infringed on her freedom of speech when she rejected a class paper on the topic of same-sex marriage.
Destiny McDermitt, a 17-year-old junior at Hill-McCloy High School in Montrose, was assigned a project titled “Take a Stand,” in which she was allowed to choose a subject and advocate for or against it, according to one of her mothers, Angela McDermitt-Jackson.
The only parameters for the assignment were the topic could not be one written about for another class or one that would be considered “awkward or inappropriate,” with abortion provided as an example of a forbidden subject, a copy of the assignment provided to CNN shows.
Neither the assignment nor the teacher specified that same-sex marriage was an off-limits topic, according to McDermitt-Jackson.
In reviewing the incident, Montrose Community Schools Superintendent Linden Moore said in an emailed statement that “the teacher attempted to avoid disruption and controversy by limiting the topics that students could choose for a writing assignment. Unfortunately, although well-intentioned, the teacher was too restrictive.”
The alleged incident
Given her experience growing up with two mothers, Destiny proposed to write her paper in favor of same-sex marriage, her mother said. But when Destiny approached her teacher and asked whether she could write about that topic, her teacher said it could be considered offensive to some of her classmates.
When Destiny asked to poll the class on whether they would be offended or made uncomfortable by the topic, her teacher’s demeanor allegedly changed, her mother said.
“(Her teacher) told her, ‘I don’t want to read it, I don’t want to hear about it and I’m the one who has to grade it,'” McDermitt-Jackson told CNN. “The teacher totally discriminated against her.”
The school district did not identify the teacher in its statement, nor did McDermitt-Jackson.
McDermitt-Jackson claims the exchange was heard in front of the entire class, prompting Destiny and three fellow students to go to the principal and report what happened. Destiny texted her mothers soon afterward, and they sat with the principal and superintendent to discuss what happened.
“Both the superintendent and the principal said ‘I agree, (the teacher) shouldn’t have said that. She shouldn’t have done that,'” McDermitt-Jackson said. “My daughter was transferred out of the class that day.”
The school district vowed to investigate the incident and keep Destiny’s family abreast of its findings, but McDermitt-Jackson said administrators haven’t followed through on their promise to communicate with the family.
Superintendent Moore neither confirmed nor denied exactly what happened and called the incident a “learning opportunity.”
“We have spoken to the teacher and all of our staff about valuing the opinions, beliefs, and rights of all of our students,” the statement also said.
McDermitt-Jackson said her greater concern was that the teacher did not protect the students. She said she believed any student who may be struggling with their sexuality and looking to the classroom for support could feel as though they don’t have their teacher in their corner.
McDermitt-Jackson said her understanding of the punishment levied against the teacher was that she was instructed to “clarify her next assignments better.” She also said the school never formally apologized for what happened.
“There was no discipline to that teacher,” McDermitt-Jackson said, “It was a slap on the wrist. At this point in time, I don’t want them to (apologize) because they didn’t take care of it appropriately the first time.”
Superintendent Moore did not respond to CNN’s multiple follow-up requests for comment in response to McDermitt-Jackson’s claims of what occurred and the district’s lack of an apology.
Despite what transpired, Destiny intends to remain at her school, her mother said.
“She loves that school, her friends,” McDermitt-Jackson added. “She has other great teachers, some who said they have her back. She’s not really impressed with the superintendent or principal. She feels like they completely failed her and they did.”
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