"The idea to label me as anti-American or someone who hates the flag is very disingenuous when you look at the context of the lesson," says Lee Francis

By Caitlin Keating
September 21, 2016 01:25 PM

A high school history teacher was placed on administrative leave Tuesday after he stepped on the U.S. flag as part of a lesson on the First Amendment.

Lee Francis, an instructor at Massey Hill Classical High School in Fayetteville, North Carolina, was teaching 26 students when the incident happened on Monday, according to the Fay Observer.

Francis, who joined the school this year, was teaching about Texas v. Johnson, a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that invalidated prohibitions on desecrating the American flag, and will now meet with Cumberland County Schools officials Thursday to discuss the incident.

Superintendent Frank Till Jr. told the news outlet that he needs all the facts before any action is taken.

After stepping on the flag – something he said he only did this one time – two students walked out of the class, while the other students told the school they were not offended.

“But this is exactly what I teach: You don’t teach kids how to think or what to think; you teach them to go their own path,” Francis told the Fay Observer. “If they feel so convicted that this is their cause they’re going to stand for, I don’t blame them. It’s an upper-level school for those who aspire to go to college and in that regard, we have rigor and expectations, so I treat them as such.”

He added: “Not only was the demonstration warranted and justified based on the court, it’s warranted and justified in the rights we have. This is the law of the land upheld by the highest court. Freedom of speech is not just defined verbally by something you say or write down on paper, but something that can also be a physical action.”

Some people on social media want Francis to be fired, while others – including the school’s principal, some fellow teachers and many students – support him, according to Francis.

“Folks are quick to say this is ‘the land of the free,’ but when you express it, they have a problem with it,” one student said anonymously. “What he showed was a real-life situation that you can’t just pull yourself out of. I’m outraged by the treatment he’s getting. I’m scared for his safety.”

Added Francis, “My question to all those who are out there, and I pose this to my students, who is entitled to freedom of speech? Does everyone have access to the American Dream? Based on what I’ve experienced here, no. It saddens me that this is the direction of where the conversation is going.”