A high school in Georgia, River Ridge High School, is warning a Republican candidate to stay away from school grounds and is threatening him with arrest if he attempts to stage a protest on school property. Michael Williams, a candidate for governor, is demanding the dismissal of Lyn Orletsky, who sparked a national uproar after forcing two of her students to turn their shirts inside out. A video of Orletsky’s encounter with the students circulated social media, and she was placed on administrative leave.
Michael Williams, a Republican candidate for governor in Georgia, planned a protest for today, Wednesday, September 27, to demand that teacher Orletsky be dismissed from her job. The school system’s superintendent warned Williams not to stage the protest, arguing that it would disrupt classes and could endanger students. A message posted on the school’s website cited federal and state laws, although failed to specify details.
The superintendent’s message did offer space at another site, and claimed to “strongly support the constitutional right to air grievances.”
Williams is seen as a long-shot candidate for governor in Georgia. He has been a strong supporter of President Trump on the campaign trail.
Love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny the effectiveness of President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. The motto struck a chord with many Americans who have seen their wealth and livelihoods decline in recent years. Across the Rust Belt, the South, and elsewhere, voters were driven the voting booth in hopes of making American great again. Only, Georgia teacher Lyn Orletsky was having none of that in her math class.
Orletsky worried that the many minority students in her class would be intimidated by the T-shirts and argued that the motto has been commandeered by white supremacists.
The incident occurred during Orletsky’s pre-calculus class. Orletsky teaches in Cherokee County, one of the most staunchly conservative counties in all of red-leaning Georgia. This past November, roughly 3 out of 4 voters in the county endorsed Trump. Pro-Trump T-shirts have not been uncommon, and Orletsky had not previously asked students to cover their shirts. Indeed, Orletsky has stated that nothing is wrong with “President Trump,” but that she took issue with the slogan in light of recent events.
Orletsky worried that the many minority students in her class would be intimidated by the T-shirts and argued that the motto has been commandeered by white supremacists. At one point, she even seemed to liken the slogan to swastikas and other white supremacist symbols.
Her request of the students came on August 31, just a few weeks after the Charlottesville white supremacist rally and counter-protests. Some white supremacists have been using the “Make America Great Again” slogan to push their bigoted views. Some bigots have even gone as far as to argue that to make America great again, we must remove our ethnic and cultural diversity.
If we are truly going to “Make America Great Again,” we must set aside our prejudices.
The incident was captured on video, which has since circulated the web. Orletsky has been placed on administrative leave, and a permanent replacement is being sought for her math classes. She has also faced death threats online, and other attacks. Personally, I believe Orletsky was wrong to ask the students to turn their shirt inside out, and that placing her on administrative leave may be warranted. I also hope that she is not fired solely for this incident. At the same time, the immense local and national backlash suggest that all parties might be better off if she seeks employment elsewhere.
Racism and bigotry will never make America great, in my opinion, and everyone, from the president on down, should acknowledge such.
Who can wear what should be left to school administrators and defined by school-wide policies. Perhaps political shirts shouldn’t be allowed in school at all as it may distract students and cause tensions. Or maybe allowing students to express their political views will help make them more engaged citizens. There are arguments for both sides. Regardless, Orletsky appears to have made an isolated mistake, and her motives may have been honest. Effective teachers are hard to come by, and she should be judged by her entire body of work, not one mistake.
Ultimately, I believe that if we are truly going to make America Great, we must set aside our prejudices. Rightly or wrongly, “Make America Great Again” has been co-opted by some white supremacists and racists groups. Racism and bigotry will never make America great, in my opinion, and everyone, from the president on down, should acknowledge such.
Brian Brinker is an OpsLens contributor and political consultant. He has an M.A in global affairs from American University. This OpsLens piece is used by permission.
(photo credit, article image: Phil Roeder, Flickr)