In a letter to the student newspaper, a San Luis Obispo High School teacher quoted a Bible verse saying that people committing homosexual acts “deserve to die,” drawing outrage and concern from students, teachers and parents, and a call for calm by administrators.
Mayor Heidi Harmon urged community members to complain to the school district administration. “This is unacceptable,” Harmon wrote on her Facebook page Wednesday. “A teacher at SLO High wrote this shaming letter against the LGBT community — a community that already has a high degree of suicide.”
The school won’t discipline special education teacher Michael Stack, saying teachers as well as students “do not shed their First Amendment rights” at school.
“A bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable,” San Luis Coastal Unified School District Superintendent Eric Prater and Principal Leslie O’Connor said in a joint statement Wednesday.
“As a district, we understand that students do not shed their First Amendment rights at school, and we respect the rights of our students to speak on controversial topics. We applaud the high school’s commitment to open dialogue and a free exchange of ideas in its student newspaper,” the statement read. “ … In a similar manner, we acknowledge the right of our staff to voice their opinions.”
Prater and O’Connor called the controversy “a teachable moment” and urged the community to conduct a “civil discourse.”
The statement went on to say that Stack was a probationary teacher in his first year at the campus. At O’Connor’s recommendation, the district decided in February not to keep him on staff for the upcoming school year.
Stack left campus early Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.
His letter was published Tuesday in Expressions, the school’s journalism website, and was in response to Expressions’ May 2017 print edition featuring lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer issues — including an interview with an LGBTQ couple about their relationship.
Stack wrote that he was compelled to speak out because he “didn’t want to displease God,” saying the Bible is “without error” and its hundreds of predictions are 100 percent accurate.
They know God’s justice required that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway.
Bible passage cited by SLO High teacher Michael Stack
Stack cited an excerpt from the Book of Romans referring to the sinfulness of homosexuality. He wrote that the passage describes “a deception that has happened in the past, and is happening again right now, not only at SLOHS, but throughout the world.”
The passage states that women and men who engage in homosexual acts were abandoned by God and their lives “became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip.”
“They know God’s justice required that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway,” the passage continues.
Stack’s letter has infuriated many students, teachers, parents and staff members who call it intolerant and prejudiced and worry about the effect it could have on teenage students, some of whom are gay.
Amber Ernst, a 16-year-old junior and co-president of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance, an LGBTQ advocacy group, called the letter “heartbreaking.”
“I’m very strong in what I believe and in who I am, but for others still trying to find themselves, I feel like something like this will be really damaging,” Ernst said. “It’s heartbreaking for them to see a teacher essentially say they’re going to hell.”
Ernst said she has Stack as a study skills teacher in the last period of the day.
She said that within the last few weeks, Stack asked her if she’d step outside the classroom to have a religious discussion with him, but she declined. She said she was not aware of the extent of his views before the letter and had not previously tried to convert her or denounce her homosexuality in class.
Prater said late Wednesday, “This is the first I’ve heard of this allegation. It would certainly warrant further investigation on our end. Obviously, it is inappropriate; however, Mr. Stack deserves his due process before I could respond further. I will have Mr. O’Connor investigate tomorrow.”
On Wednesday, Ernst decorated a shirt that she wore to school with Bible verses referring to an accepting and loving God.
I’m very strong in what I believe and in who I am, but for others still trying to find themselves, I feel like something like this will be really damaging. It’s heartbreaking for them to see a teacher essentially say they’re going to hell.
Amber Ernst, co-president of the Gay Straight Alliance at SLO High
“At first, I was going to walk out of his class,” Ernst said. “But then I decided that I’d rather talk to him and not really yell at him or anything, but to hear his thoughts and hear how I feel. I used to really respect him as a I teacher, and I’ve lost some respect, but I wanted to talk to him.”
Ernst’s girlfriend, a sophomore at the school who didn’t want to be identified, said she just wants people to accept the LGBTQ community as normal. They say they have received support from students, including a fellow classmate that drew a rainbow on a class whiteboard.
“We’re normal people,” she said. “We just want to be treated like everybody else.”
Some of the comments at the bottom of the letter posted online spoke directly to Stack, including a writer named Brandi Bryant.
“Your need to send this to the school affiliated paper makes me believe you can’t separate your personal beliefs and your ability to teach and support all students, some being part of the LGBTQ community,” Bryant wrote.
Assistant Superintendent Kimberly McGrath said Stack had expressed his intent to retire at the end of the school year. He said in his letter that “I love the staff and students at SLOHS. My students know that. But I love God more, so in obedience to Him, I am writing this letter.”
Correction: A San Luis Obispo High School student’s name has been removed for privacy reasons.