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Petition to keep embattled teacher at Heritage High receives nearly 9,000 signatures

A petition started by two Heritage High students to keep a teacher who’s being involuntarily transferred from leaving had garnered nearly 9,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon.
The online petition was created after Tyler Rust, a U.S. history teacher and student club adviser, received a letter from the district’s human resources department stating he will be transferred to Liberty High School.
Though a spokeswoman for the school district would not comment on the decision because it’s a personnel matter, Rust and several students say they believe it’s because of a video recorded in March depicting the teacher kneeling while the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps raises the American flag at Heritage High at the beginning of the school day.
The video, which was originally posted on Snapchat, shows Rust kneeling while a student, whose face is not depicted in the video, yells obscenities at him.
The student is heard saying, “You know people died for this flag, right?”
Rust said his intent was not to disrespect the military or the school. Rather, he hoped to raise awareness for police brutality, following the precedent started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
“They see it as an insult to the military and it’s not,” Rust said. “Me taking a knee was never intended to bring negative attention to anything, except to the idea of police brutality and the killing of unarmed African- Americans.”
Denise Rugani, Liberty Union High School District associate superintendent of human resources, would not say whether this incident was a reason for Rust’s transfer. She did say, however, “it’s not just for one thing; our district never does anything for one situation.”
The letter informing Rust of his transfer, which was shared with the Bay Area News Group, states “the purpose of this transfer is to address the needs of the district, specifically to avoid and minimize the potential for further disruption to the educational programs and to ensure the orderly operation of school programs.”
Rust said after he received the letter, he requested a meeting with the school principal, district superintendent and the school representative from the California Teachers Association, hoping to learn why he was being transferred.
However, Rust said the school officials would not specify and only said “you know” when asked why he was being transferred and called a disruption, though he felt he had done nothing wrong.
Carrie Wells, Heritage principal, declined to discuss the meeting. Hillary Pedrotti, the CTA representative, and Eric Volta, the LUHSD superintendent, did not respond to requests for comment.
Rust added that his classes discuss social justice issues and he encourages his students to challenge their preconceived ideas about history. These topics naturally bring controversy and criticism, he said.
“I’ve been dealing with people…who’ve been bullying me and trying to get me fired for a long time,” Rust said. “As a teacher, I’ve found that it’s been more effective to teach with a critical voice, to provoke an argument from my students, so that they can develop their own perspective.”
Although the petition and social media comments on the video have generated backlash, the students who started the petition said those who know Rust appreciate his methods and beliefs.
“Voices that have been marginalized a lot at our school are very adamant about keeping Mr. Rust,” said Rezahn Abraha, a member of the Black Student Union, which Rust advises. “He’s constantly supportive. He teaches us to formulate our own opinions and he’s always there, always willing to help.”
Kayley Phillips, another Heritage senior, added, “I know every day I walked out of the class…I was just so inspired to learn more and to investigate instead of just getting fed facts and memorizing things for tests, to really look into everything, to really look into history and realize how history impacts the world today and also seeing that impact and criticizing the actions of our government and society and how we can help.”
The students plan to join forces with other current and former students, as well as parents, for a protest and comments at the LUHSD school board meeting Wednesday night.

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