East Bay teacher transfer sparks student activism

Wednesday, May 23, 2018
East Bay teacher transfer sparks student activism
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OAKLEY, Calif. (KGO) -- Students at an East Bay High School have started a petition and plan to protest after the Liberty Union High School District decided to transfer one of their teachers to another high school.

Many students believe a video prompted the transfer of Tyler Rust, shown kneeling while the American flag is being raised on campus.

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A shaky video shot by a student in March shows Rust kneeling as several of the school's ROTC students raise the campus flag before the start of morning classes.

Now that teacher, Tyler Rust, is being transferred from Heritage High to another school in Brentwood and some students have started an online petition, in protest.

"Mr. Rust acting on his beliefs encourages us to act on our own," said senior Rezahn Abraha, who wrote the petition and is a member of the Heritage Black Student Union. Rust is the adviser for the student group.

So far, the petition has generated more than 9000 signatures from all over the country.

"I think it's terrible they're trying to transfer him. He didn't do anything wrong necessarily," said Ronald Yelder, another student.

"I want him at Heritage because he fosters this environment of inclusion that I think is so, so important on our campus," said senior Kayley Phillips, another of the petition organizers.

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For his part, Rust told us by telephone, "I chose to acknowledge the flag the way Colin Kaepernick acknowledges the flag. I took a knee. I interfered with the raising of the flag."

The teacher said he's done the same thing, 5 to 10 times and always before the start of his work-day, as his way of protesting police brutality and the treatment of African Americans.

The student who shot the video told us, while he regrets the expletives he directed toward the teacher, he and his friends found Rust's kneeling disrespectful to the flag, and the military.

In its letter notifying Rust of his transfer, the district said "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..."

Rust told us the district wouldn't tell him how he was being disruptive. Still, he won't fight his transfer to Liberty High.

"The real story is that the kids are motivated and want to be heard. This is a great example of how citizens can engage in their democracy," he said.

Besides the petition, the students fighting Rust's transfer plan to protest at Wednesday's school board meeting.

For the latest on educational issues in the Bay Area and across the country, visit this page.