Roma teacher put on leave for inclusive imagery unsatisfied with reinstatement

Calls for anti-racism principles implemented at school district

The Roma High School teacher who was placed on paid administrative leave over inclusive imagery in her virtual classroom remains unsatisfied with the situation despite being reinstated to her position, demanding more action by the district before she returns to teaching.

The teacher, Taylor Lifka, was put on leave Sunday over Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ imagery. Roma ISD announced her reinstatement Wednesday and that she will be allowed to keep the images up.

For Lifka, however, this isn’t enough and doesn’t plan on returning to work until the district addresses additional concerns.

She didn’t teach Thursday and is not planning on teaching until the district outlines its policies for teachers supporting anti-racism concretely.

“I can’t wait to be back in the classroom, but I know that there just needs to be further conversation to ensure that we do support teachers that believe in anti-racist policies and we do support tolerance at Roma ISD, and not in a vague way but in a very concrete way that is stated — these are policies that we need to instill into the culture of Roma ISD,” she said.

In addition to demanding more concrete policies for herself and other teachers, Lifka sees the situation as an important opportunity for discussion on issues of race and identity, and is demanding that discussion happen before she begins teaching again.

“This isn’t me mad at the district,” she said. “This isn’t me fighting for my job, they said I can have my job, but before I walk back into my classroom we need to have discussion, because if not, what was this all about?”

A statement from Roma ISD says Lifka was placed on paid administrative leave Sunday after community members and parents voiced concern over the images.

A screenshot of the website was widely circulated online over the weekend, drawing both criticism and support.

A change.org petition demanding the 25-year-old ninth grade English teacher be taken off administrative leave had garnered over 31,000 signatures as of Thursday evening. The move also prompted individuals to voice their criticism of the district’s action via email and social media, and prompted the Roma High School Student Council issued a statement expressing their support for Lifka, who is an adviser for the group.

A statement released by the district Wednesday said Lifka had been put on leave because the complaints about the website had been voiced over the weekend and the timing “made it necessary for the District to place Ms. Lifka on leave until we could fully and responsibly review this matter.”

“This action was not intended to reflect any form of punishment or admonishment towards Ms. Lifka but was purely driven by a need to review the circumstances and come to a sound resolution for all persons involved,” the statement read. “Out of concern for Ms. Lifka, Roma ISD wishes to state again that she has not been reprimanded in any way concerning this matter. The District appreciates the importance of advancing sensitivity regarding equality and inclusivity.”

The statement repeatedly and emphatically pledged Roma ISD’s commitment to anti-discrimination and inclusivity, saying Lifka was taken off leave Tuesday and informed she would be allowed the choice to keep the graphic background for her virtual classroom as proposed so long as it “does not come to overly disrupt or detract from the educational process or the learning environment.”

Roma ISD Superintendent Carlos Guzman reiterated the district’s commitment to equality in the release.

“Roma ISD regrets that this matter has become a point of controversy. It was never the intention of the District to indicate anything less than full support for the concepts of equality and student safety,” he wrote. “As educators and community members, Roma ISD has an obligation to carefully listen to parent concerns and respond to them, taking into consideration the rights of employees and students. As a school district, we must create a safe environment for our teachers and students that fosters and respects everyone’s beliefs in a manner that does not discriminate or disrupt the learning environment. I want to affirm that our District is filled with caring and committed educators that give 100 percent of themselves every day to the education and development of our students.”

Despite Guzman’s assurances, Lifka isn’t ready to let the matter drop.

“Now that this has become a bigger deal, I want to talk about it before I commit to working back at a district that I’m not sure supports the values and initiatives that I know are necessary for our kids,” she said.

Commitment to principles over her personal situation doesn’t mean Lifka has avoided being affected personally. She says the experience has been painful, and impactful professionally.

“I wasn’t there to start the school year with my kids, and when you Google me now the first thing that does come up is ‘Taylor Lifka placed on administrative leave,’ which, anyone that’s placed on administrative leave is obviously being reprimanded,” she said.

Lifka was put on administrative leave Sunday and she says the news media began reaching out to her Tuesday, while the petition demanding her reinstatement was gaining steam. The district reached out to her shortly afterward, she said, assuring her that her job had never been on the line and saying she wasn’t being punished.

The district publicly announced Lifka’s reinstatement Wednesday. She was given access to her virtual classroom a little after 12 p.m. the following day.

Lifka says she’s not sure what will happen if she doesn’t get what she’s demanding, but the conversation between her and the district is ongoing and she’s hopeful they’ll be able to cooperate.

In fact, she says the superintendent asked her to promise to tell anybody in the press that they are working together to come to a conclusion on the matter — something Lifka believes is true.

“I think they really are at this point willing to talk about it, and we have been talking about it,” Lifka said. “They say ‘we believe in this, we believe in this, we believe in this’ — they’re just having a hard time really vocalizing it.”

Lifka says what she’s looking for will take time, and she’s looking forward to cooperating. She is not, however, planning on compromising.

Before she was placed on leave, Lifka had the opportunity to remove or edit the content on her website. She slept on the decision and declined the next morning.

“I just wasn’t willing to compromise,” Lifka said. “The main word there is compromise and to me there’s no compromising on this, because this is about equality and tolerance, and it comes down to the identities we accept in our classrooms and that’s basically me telling my students to compromise on who they are. I’m just never going to be OK with that.”