An incident last week in a San Luis Obispo County school where a teacher told a conservative student group waving a profane flag against Joe Biden to “jump off a bridge” has garnered national and international attention this week.
Last Wednesday, the Paso Robles Conservative Club, a school group at Paso Robles High School, held a rally for the upcoming Veterans Day. While the students peacefully showed support, one student held a flag saying “F— Biden” on it. Kristin Usilton, a learning loss mitigation funded teacher at nearby Bauer Speck Elementary School saw the display and immediately went into her school to record a video lambasting the display.
“The Paso Robles Conservative club for the high school, you can go jump off a bridge,” said Usilton in her Instagram rant. “I’m going to post what they thought was a great show of support for the veterans, who I’m pretty sure would be absolutely offended by what they did on school campus. And had the LGBTQ population done that or the black or the Hispanic community members, we would have had our a– chewed out. Look at what they did today.”
Following backlash that day, with many followers asking her if she wanted those students to kill themselves over the incident, Usilton backtracked.
“When I said ‘go jump off a bridge, I just meant go away, and I will not use that term again because of the incredible influx of messages I got about that,” added Usilton later that day on Instagram. “But if that’s what you focused on in that message, you’re kind of part of the problem.”
Despite her second message, her first video quickly spread through student social media accounts before trickling out to Paso Robles citizens.
By Friday, the incident had become a regional issue, with the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District Superintendent Curt Dubost soon launching an investigation into the incident. While the District made it clear that the student with the flag would likely be disciplined for waving the profane flag on school grounds, and that his action was not condoned, Usilton’s follow-up video would receive the most attention. In a statement made earlier this week, Dubost said that the matter involving her was being investigated through the Human Resources Department of the District and hinted at severe action, mentioning threats on students and cyber-bullying.
“Last Wednesday, a student effort to honor Veterans Day was disrupted by a very poor choice to include a profane flag,” said Dubost earlier this week. “This both detracted from the intended purpose of the demonstration and led to considerable disruption, including some postings and exchanges on social media that were completely inappropriate. The objectionable flag was up for a very limited amount of time; however, we in no way condone nor excuse this misguided action. Students will be appropriately disciplined in accordance with District policies.
“Later that day, a District employee posted comments on social media regarding this event which were inappropriate, and the District is responding accordingly through the Human Resource office. The District will make it clear to all employees that as an employee of PRJUSD, social media is not the appropriate venue for criticism of our students and families and that we must conduct ourselves in a professional manner. The community is entrusting their children to our schools and employees. With this stated, we want to emphasize that the District does not tolerate threats on our employees or students, nor do we condone cyber-bullying.”
Concern in Paso Robles over incident
Education experts told the Globe on Thursday that despite the seriousness of the incident, the teacher would most likely not be fired because of it.
“Unless it can be proven that she really meant that, or called out students by name, she’ll likely get a slap on the wrist,” said Alicia Huff, a school administrator who has overseen faculty disciplinary investigations in multiple school districts, including two in California. “Districts with teachers unions are even harder to crack. The day of the ‘rubber room’ reassignment center when teachers are in limbo are no more, or at least being phased out, but there’s a lot of other ways to save their job.”
“Now this is getting national attention, so something will likely happen to her. Incidents like this always have something, like a suspension, unpaid leave, sending them to another school, or something as punishment. But, again, it will likely be nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Compared against some things teachers do to students, this isn’t that bad. But it is still wrong, even if any intent or threat wasn’t there.”
“I will tell you this though. This incident just marked her for life. She’s not moving up higher on the chain after putting all this pressure on the district, and any school looking to hire her in the future will see stories like this pop up. They always do. I know a teacher in another district who we found to have stolen a few things. Fast forward ten years later and she is still complaining that it ruined her life because no school will hire her. She doesn’t have a good name anymore. That’s her real punishment here.”
This week, the story reached many national and international outlets due to the controversial nature of the incident, as well as questions over free speech rights.
“The Paso Robles school district was hoping that the story would just blow over,” Paso Robles resident and parent Arthur Scott, who has been interviewed by multiple outlets this week, told the Globe on Thursday. “Fox News was here. It’s been in the New York Post. Some British Network told some people they’d be coming out. This is the last thing they wanted. For this to blow up. Well, it did.”
Any disciplinary action against Usilton and the student is expected to be announced soon. Eusebio Martinez Jr., the fiancé of Usilton, has told multiple outlets that she is not available for comment and to take down stories of her as it is “ruining her good name.”
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