The Philadelphia high school teacher in the center of the Mitt Romney T-shirt controversy is sending a message to students: stop the bullying.
Samantha Pawlucy, a 16-year-old sophomore at Charles Carroll High School in the Port Richmond section of the city, says she wore a pink Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan T-shirt during the school's dress down day on Sept. 28.
The teen says she was humiliated after her geometry teacher told her to lose her Romney T-shirt comparing it to “wearing a KKK shirt.”
"The teacher told me to get out of the classroom, I said 'no,' " Samantha said.
"She told me to take off my shirt and said that she has another one if I need one. And then the teacher asked me… 'are your parents Republican?' I said, 'I don't know.' She said that's like her wearing a KKK shirt."
Samantha was so embarrassed by the public criticism, she told her parents she didn’t want to return to school.
On Friday, Samantha and her parents went to the school to file a formal complaint against teacher Lynette Gaymon. Father Richard Pawlucy says students taunted them through school windows, even though the superintendent says Samantha did nothing wrong.
"He wants to put out a bulletin for the children, that Samantha was in the right and the teacher was wrong" said Pawlucy.
Students are supporting Gaymon, a popular math teacher. Tight security stopped them from a planned rally on Friday. But one told NBC10 "since day one, she's been about kids' rights and kids' expression and I think she's a good teacher."
Gaymon was moved to another classroom as the school district investigated the incident.
Richard Pawlucy said Gaymon did apologize to his daughter, saying the comments were meant as a joke.
"It was funny to her but I was really embarrassed," Samantha said.
Pawlucy tells NBC10 that Mayor Michael Nutter met with his family over the weekend but wouldn't say what Nutter told Samantha.
A rally was held Tuesday at 7:45 a.m. as Pawlucy returned to school. Supporters gathered to cheer the girl on.
"I want to thank everyone for coming out," said Pawlucy. "I know there are a lot of things they have to do today and they came out to support me."
On Tuesday, Gaymon released a letter to students, once again apologizing for the controversy. Gaymon also called for an end to the threatening words and messages Pawlucy has received in light of the incident. Here is the full letter:
Good morning, my babies,
First of all, I'm very sorry for all of the chaos and negative attention that has surrounded our school in the past couple of weeks. What I meant as a light and humorous remark during class has developed into a huge conflict between students, faculty, parents and neighbors. My words were never meant to belittle Ms. Pawlucy, or cause any harm, and I truly regret that we have come to this point.
I firmly believe in the right to freedom of speech and expression. I have always taught you to be unafraid of who you are, and to be unafraid to express your beliefs. Everyone who has ever been in my classroom knows that when we have disagreements, we are expected to talk through them, and work out our differences in a civilized and calm manner.
Because I have always encouraged you to resolve your differences through conversation, I'm very disturbed by the negative and hateful words and messages that have been directed at Sam Pawlucy. The bullying of Sam—on Facebook, Twitter, or otherwise—has to stop.
I hope we can take this whole unfortunate incident, and use it as a lesson in how to agree without being disagreeable. Freedom of speech is everyone's right. But let's use it to have discussions that help us to better understand each other, not rip each other apart. I hope we've all learned that lesson.
The Carroll students that I know have always supported each other, even when they have disagreements. This is a very rough time for Sam, and she needs that support from you now more than ever. Let's get back to being the school where we care for each other, and where we show up for school on time, in uniform and ready to work!
Have a good day, go to all of your classes and get all of your credits now!
Lynette Gaymon, Teacher