MADISONVILLE, Tenn. – A high school student says he was shoved and taunted by his principal because he wore a T-shirt supporting a gay-straight alliance, a claim the Monroe County School System disputes.
The Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has entered the case on behalf of 17-year-old Chris Sigler and other Sequoyah High School students it says have been prevented by school officials from forming the alliance they call GSA. It threatened a lawsuit unless the school agrees by Tuesday to respect the rights of students to peacefully state opinions.
Sigler and his family filed a police report over the Sept. 30 classroom confrontation with Principal Maurice Moser.
Monroe County Schools attorney Chuck Cagle told The Knoxville News Sentinel on Thursday that there are “vast, vast differences” between the family’s allegations and what school officials say happened.
Sigler said Moser confronted him because it was the second time he wore a homemade shirt to school that said “GSA: We’ve got your back.”
Sigler told the newspaper that Moser entered his classroom, dismissed the other students and grabbed Sigler by the arm and shoulder and pushed him into a wall.
“And then he started bumping me back with his chest, and I had to jump over a chair and a desk to get away from him,” Sigler said.
According to the ACLU, when Sigler’s mother arrived at the school she heard Moser shouting at her son, “Who’s the big man now?”
A statement from Monroe County Schools said, “Our documentation clearly indicates that there are always two sides to every story. We’ll gladly provide more information as it becomes available.”
ACLU of Tennessee legal director Tricia Herzfeld said the ACLU has been monitoring events at the school since August, when students unsuccessfully tried to form the GSA.
“When things started escalating, we decided to get involved to protect the free-speech rights of all students,” Herzfeld said.
A letter the ACLU sent to the school this week said that school hasn’t stopped students from wearing clothing with Confederate flags and sexual references even though the dress code prohibits rebel flags and vulgar or suggestive messages.