In an interview with The Daily Wire on Friday, Julianne Benzel, a high school AP American History teacher in Sacramento, California, said she was "stunned" when — without prior warning or any explanation — she received notification from the school on the morning of the National School Walkout gun control demonstration that she had been placed on paid administrative leave.
"At around 8:30 in the morning on Wednesday, I was notified by the school that I had been placed on paid administrative leave," said Benzel, a widely popular teacher who has taught at Rocklin High School for two decades. "I received the call about a half-hour before school started and was emailed a generic leave form with no explanation for why they were suspending me. I was stunned."
Asked if she had any suspicions that morning about what might have triggered the administration’s actions, Benzel said that she suspected it had to do with the politically-charged gun control demonstration because of the timing.
Though she assumed the school would soon contact her for clarification on the grounds for the mysterious suspension, the first time she would learn of the school’s rationale was when reporters knocked on her door Wednesday afternoon, right around the time school let out. Benzel learned to her surprise that the school had told the press why they’d suspended her before they'd informed her.
"To be honest, I was hurt and disappointed," Benzel said about the school’s handling of the situation.
Benzel learned from the reporters that "complaints" from a few students and parents about her merely asking them to consider the ramifications of schools officially endorsing a political demonstration had been determined by the school to be grounds for placing her on administrative leave.
In her classes on Thursday and Friday, before the gun control demonstration, Benzel had asked her over 120 students in her AP American History courses to stop and consider if it is wise policy for schools to allow students to walk out of classes for a political cause. If the school backs a gun control demonstration, does it now have to back any form of political demonstration, for example a pro-life event?
"I gave my students an example that I knew was controversial: abortion. Will schools now allow pro-life students to walk out of classes?" she said.
Benzell stressed that she did not discourage any student from participating in the demonstration. She also noted that no students or parents had complained to her personally about her comments, nor had she been asked by the school about her innocuous pushback on the walkout, despite being on campus Thursday, Friday, Monday and Tuesday.
A statement issued by the school Wednesday claimed that Benzel had been placed on administrative leave due to "several complaints from parents and students" about her communications regarding the walkout. However, when Benzel, accompanied by her legal representative, finally met with the school on Thursday afternoon, she learned that her temporary suspension was the result of complaints by just one parent and two of her 120+ students. One student had written a single paragraph expressing discomfort about her question, and another had written about "three-quarters of a page" expressing similar sentiments, said Benzel. For that, a 20-year veteran teacher who was widely respected in the community was put on paid administrative leave without warning or explanation.
Though the school asked her to return to work the next day, telling her they wanted the whole issue "swept up," Benzel said she chose instead to use some of her leave time to take Friday off and regroup. She told The Daily Wire she planned to return to her full teaching load on Monday.
Asked if she was going to take legal action, Benzel demurred, suggesting that the strong public pushback against the school's handling of the situation might prove to be as much justice as she feels is necessary should the school take no further action.
Top image: Benzel discusses why she was put on paid leave with Fox News.