Utah superintendent denies claims that teacher wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirt disparaged police in class

Sydnee Dickson, state superintendent of public instruction, speaks during a COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, July 30, 2020.

(Laura Seitz, KSL)

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SALT LAKE CITY — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson has responded to allegations by the Utah Fraternal Order of Police that an elementary school teacher made disparaging remarks about law enforcement while wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt.

In a letter to the organization’s board of directors, Dickson wrote that the Utah State Board of Education reached out to Jordan School District to investigate concerns raised by the police union of some 4,000 law enforcement officers, “and found that the incidents aren’t quite as described in your letter.”

“For example, in the case of the teacher wearing a #BlackLivesMatter T-shirt, we found no evidence of disparaging remarks towards police officers or no discussion at all about any related issues,” Dickson wrote.

The Utah Fraternal Order of Police letter to Dickson said it has received reports that Utah public school classrooms are “becoming spaces for progressive political speech and acts.”

The organization’s letter described the experiences of a fourth-grade girl in a West Jordan elementary school, the daughter of a law enforcement officer who was “injured in the Salt Lake City riots.”

The letter states the teacher was clad in a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and made disparaging comments about law enforcement.

“This child was emotionally devastated by someone who should be helping her feel safe,” the organization’s letter states.

Leaders of the Utah Fraternal Order of Police, which advocates for the safety and working conditions of police officers, wrote that “the classroom is not the place for political indoctrination based on the political leanings of the teacher.”

Dickson’s letter notes that school communities are likely to discuss matters of public concern.

“When relevant to the curriculum, appropriate to the age and maturity of the students, and presented objectively, even the difficult conflicts facing our community today may be proper subject matter for the classroom. However, we acknowledge that great care must be taken to protect and respect the diverse points of view of the students and families in Utah,” she wrote.

Classrooms must remain a place of learning and acceptance and educators must take “special care” when discussing such issues, Dickson wrote.

“While we all work to tackle systemic racism in our various institutions, we must look inward and learn lessons from the past. We must also honor the vital role that law enforcement plays in society,” she wrote.

Educators must “treat each student with dignity and respect and exercise caution not to allow the discord in the community to spill over into the learning environment,” Dickson wrote.

Her letter quotes an administrative rule that requires educators to “maintain a professional educator/student relationship, including by: treating a student with dignity and respect by promoting the health, safety and wellbeing of students; maintaining appropriate verbal, emotional and social boundaries; and taking prompt and appropriate action to prevent harassment or discriminatory conduct toward a student or school employee that the educator knew or should have known may result in a hostile, intimidating, abusive, offensive, or oppressive environment.”

Utah educators are expected to live up to the rule, she wrote.

“In this case and any case like it, I encourage any parent with such concerns to contact the teacher, principal, or local superintendent to work out a resolution. If none can be reached, contact our Professional Practices Advisory Commission staff for assistance.”

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