Lillian White, a 32-year-old teacher at Great Hearts Western Hills, a K-12 charter school in San Antonio, Texas, says she was fired after wearing a Black Lives Matter mask.
White told NBC News that she started wearing her handmade mask with the slogan to in-person teacher training days when the school reopened in July.
"I've been wearing these masks, you know, since the pandemic started. I started making them and just hadn't even thought about it. I wore them to work for about a week and a half before anyone even said anything," White said.
On July 31, she received a text message from Assistant Headmaster Heather Molder instructing her to wear a different mask. Molder said that with parents set to arrive on campus, the school could not discuss "the current political climate."
"Well, my heart rate rose immediately," White said. "This isn't going to be just a brush-it-under-the-rug kind of thing."
According to White, the school asked her to change the mask and sent her home on four separate occasions. White said she was fired on Sept. 5. However, Great Hearts Texas Superintendent Daniel Scoggin said that she quit by refusing to adhere to regulations.
"The administration of the school worked with Ms. White for weeks, reminding her of the dress code and providing remote work assignments. When at last she wrote to the administration that she would not comply with the dress code, the school was advised by counsel that she had effectively resigned her position by stating that intention and the school so informed her," Scoggin wrote.
"Great Hearts was founded and exists today to serve the innate dignity and worth of every human being," his statement continued. "We stand with the Black community and all who are suffering. Great Hearts deplores bigotry and its crushing effects on all those subjected to it. Great Hearts is committed to an America where racism, violence, and injustice do not happen, because such acts find no home in the hearts of a great people."
White disputes that, saying: "I didn't once say, 'I quit.' I didn't say, 'Here's my letter of resignation.' I was perfectly willing to continue showing up on campus."
"I was so stressed out thinking about even the possibility of backing down it just made me so sick to my stomach," she said. "This doesn't seem like an issue that anyone should have to compromise on. And if I'm compromising, then what am I actually getting done?"
White says she wore the mask to promote equality and endorse her plans to diversity the school's curriculum.
"So none of it has anything to do with anything that's not racial discrimination," she said. "That's one of the main things that I want to change, is have some representation in what these kids are reading, have some representation of joy in what these kids are reading."
Before she was fired, White started a Change.org petition calling for the school to implement an anti-racism action plan. As of the time of writing, the petition has acquired over 5,000 signatures.
"This petition is the result of over a month of fruitlessly urging Great Hearts Academies to implement an Anti-Racism Action Plan," White states. "I am asking for GH to declare that they support Black Lives Matter, that they understand that Black Students and Black Teachers Matter. I am asking that they recognize the level of support needed for those in pain, and do more than pay lip-service. I am asking for GH to implement a charter-wide Anti-Racism Plan, that includes but is not limited to anti-racism training for all employees (including board members etc.), diverse representation in curriculum, and a team on each campus to implement and monitor this plan."
"This is not an accusation of racism. We all have biases, and we must learn to recognize and face them in order to come together to heal and support each other. An educational institution should not be opposed to learning."
White says that despite multiple emails, school officials have been silent about the petition.
"While I regret not being able to stay with [my students], I do not regret standing up for this decision. ... They should see that there are going to be consequences to the decisions you make. But regardless of how strenuous it can be on you, it's worth it if you know it's right."