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Cherokee teacher in Trump T-shirt incident resigns after threats on life, attacks on character

Cherokee County math teacher Lyn Orletsky announced today she is resigning after her request to two boys to conceal their Trump "Make America Great Again" T-shirts exploded into a social media maelstrom and led to her suspension.

She made the request only after students in her pre-calculus class voiced concerns about the message on the shirts worn that morning by two classmates. Her exchange with the boys, captured on cellphone video and released to a conservative website, led to email threats on her life and a GOP candidate for Georgia governor picketing her school.

“After attacks on my character and threats on my life, I have made the decision to resign from my teaching position at River Ridge High School. While in hindsight I would have handled the situation differently, the outcry over this incident has been disproportionate to the event itself,” she said in a statement.

The classroom conversation took place two weeks after white supremacists and Neo Nazis adopted “Make America Great Again” as their rallying cry in Charlottesville, Va. A counterdemonstrator was killed and others injured when one of the marchers drove his car intentionally into a crowd. “I told the boys, in light of everything that has happened, I don’t think this is an appropriate slogan to be wearing at school. Could they please go to the restroom and turn the shirt inside out?” said Orletsky.

The boys asked what was wrong with the slogan. The math teacher said it had been commandeered by white supremacist movement, as the swastika had been by Nazis. Adopted by hate groups, the slogan could intimidate some of their classmates, she said. “There is nothing wrong with a shirt of President Trump. The problem is with the slogan.”

Orletsky had never voiced any concerns with other Trump paraphernalia, although many students wore it. Nearly three out of our Cherokee County four voters endorsed Donald Trump. A  student told me Orletsky never mentioned politics even during the election.

Several Cherokee parents vouched for her expertise as a math teacher; she holds the highly regarded National Board Certification. In Florida where she taught previously, Orletsky was a state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the Titusville (FL) High School Teacher of the Year and Brevard County Schools Exemplary Mathematics Teacher of the Year.

Many readers told me Orletsky deserved to be fired for this transgression. Of course, none of them had a student in her class. So, they weren’t concerned with the fate of Orletsky’s AP math students for whom a gap of even a few weeks in instruction could undermine their performance on the killer AP exam required to earn college credit.

Among the emails sent to the school and Orletsky was one from Oregon, which said:

You and your liberal agenda’s have finally pushed us into a corner. Do you know what happens when a rabid dog feels trapped in a corner, he only has one option and that is to defend himself at all cost so it never happens again Do you read me loud and clear?????? We are coming for YOU!!!!!! We are coming for YOU!!!!!! We are coming for YOU!!!!!!

That is a promise.

In the end, this was about a political agenda, which always takes precedence over education in Georgia.

Here is a video interview with Orletsky a few weeks ago.





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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.