ROCKLIN (CBS13) — A teacher who put on leave after she made comments questioning a nationwide student protest of gun violence has returned to the classroom.
“Overwhelmed by the support of this community,” she said in tears.
An emotional Julianne Benzel, sat down with CBS13 again, after a welcoming return to class, Monday.
“It was wonderful to see my students. They were glad to have me back. And I was glad to be back in the classroom,” she said.
Her classroom has sparked a national conversation about the politics of protests.
“If high schools or public schools are going to be places of civic activism, I could not be a better proponent for it. But it has to be afforded to any student to protest anything,” she said.
It’s that opinion that got Benzel in trouble, last Wednesday, the day of the national school walkout against gun violence, in honor of the victims of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida.
Rocklin High School put the history teacher on a paid leave of absence when she questioned whether schools would support walkouts for other polarizing political issues, including abortion.
A spokeswoman tells CBS13, in part:
“The teacher was not penalized or placed on leave based on her viewpoints. The actions were taken due to complaints from parents and students.”
On campus, the free speech controversy has erupted on some of the teenagers’ famous form of expression, social media.
“Free Mrs. Benzel,” a group of students yelled.
“She’s pretty much just asking a question, and the fact that she was put on administrative leave for having students think is just ridiculous,” said student Alexia Najera.
Some students feel the opposite is true.
“What she said was inappropriate. You’re in a public school environment, and you’re surrounded by kids—people who cannot make decisions on their own, and so you kind of just change their opinion,” said student Alana Andrews.
But strong opinions is exactly what Benzel is advocating for.
“I don’t want a double standard in this country, and that is the next step. It needs to be addressed,” she said.