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Education

San Antonio Teacher Loses Job After Refusing To Stop Wearing Black Lives Matter Mask

Former Great Hearts teacher Lillian White said she made several masks supporting the Black Lives Matter movement at the start of the pandemic.
Provided | Lillian White
Former Great Hearts teacher Lillian White said she made several masks supporting the Black Lives Matter movement at the start of the pandemic.

About a week before students at Great Hearts Western Hills were scheduled to return to the classroom, art teacher Lillian White says she received an email from her boss.

The school’s headmaster, Matthew Vlahovich, told her she no longer had a job because she planned to continue wearing a mask that says Black Lives Matter, despite being told that the mask was against the charter network’s dress code. 

“We deeply respect your convictions, and we sincerely wish you well in whatever advocacy you might choose outside the school,” Vlahovich wrote, according to a copy of the email White posted online. “However, the organization maintains a dress code in order to sustain a scholastic culture of learning in which students and faculty participate together across time.”

According to White, Great Hearts added mask restrictions to its dress code policy after school administrators asked her to start wearing a different mask.

“I didn't think it was going to be an issue at all. I guess that's pretty naive of me,” White said. “But I didn't think at my school (wearing a Black Lives Matter mask) was going to cause this brouhaha.”

Great Hearts Texas officials declined to be interviewed for this story, citing privacy concerns for “current and former employees.”

Lillian White lost her job teaching art at Great Hearts Western Hills after she refused to stop wearing masks like this one that support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Credit Provided | Lillian White
Lillian White lost her job teaching art at Great Hearts Western Hills after she refused to stop wearing masks like this one that support the Black Lives Matter movement.

In a statement, Great Hearts Texas President Dan Scoggin said the charter network has a policy against any masks with “external messages.”

“We stand with the Black community and all who are suffering,” Scoggin said. “Great Hearts deplores bigotry and its crushing effects on all those subjected to it.”

White said she was asked to stop wearing the Black Lives Matter mask several times before she lost her job, but she kept wearing it because she thought it was the right thing to do.

“Part of the huge Great Hearts philosophy is that it's not just about (standardized test) scores,” White said. “It's about morality, morality, morality. Truth, goodness, beauty, morality…What is moral about standing down and not supporting every student in your community?”

Parents React

Many Great Hearts families learned White was at odds with the charter network’s administrators a month ago in a public Facebook post.

Raquel Zapata said all of the Great Hearts Western Hills families she knows support the charter network’s decision to let White go.

Made with Flourish

“There's always been a very clear rule at Great Hearts (for all students and staff): zero pop culture, zero prints of anything political in nature or current event(s) — anything that's going to be any way distracting,” said Zapata, who has four children at Great Hearts Western Hills.

Zapata said she believes it’s inappropriate for a teacher to wear a mask that says Black Lives Matter because teaching isn’t the time to make political statements.

“I think there is a time and a place for everything,” Zapata said. “And while I appreciate her desire to stand up for our Black students, I think she should, as a teacher, be representing all of her students.”

However, Alison Collins, who is Black, said she appreciates what her son’s former art teacher was trying to do.

“For me, it's not just about politics. It's about human rights,” Collins said. “If my kid walks into a classroom and sees a teacher that has a mask that says Black Lives Matter or silence is violence…I would venture to think that he would be more comfortable with that teacher.”

Collins said another Great Hearts student called her son Ethan the N-word multiple times when he was in 5th grade.

“It didn't seem like it was something that was taken seriously," Collins said. "That bothered me.”

She said she keeps her two kids at Great Hearts because they are getting an excellent education, but sometimes the school — like most schools — shies away from tough conversations about race and racism.

“That I think ultimately starts at home, but it has to be carried on through at school,” Collins said. “We will have these exact same issues 20 years from now when my kids’ kids are in school if we don't.”

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter at @cmpcamille.

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This story has been updated to include the school's demographics.