A Louisiana teacher says he was fired after speaking out against the teaching of critical race theory, gender identity ideology, and mask mandates in his school district.
Now Jonathan Koeppel says he wants to be a voice for anyone who is “sick and tired of being pushed around by the public education system just for being conservative.”
For over a year, Koeppel had voiced concerns on social media and at school board meetings over the teaching of woke ideology. The high school Spanish teacher also has been an opponent of the mask mandates.
“I was completely fed up with the far left’s agenda to brainwash children,” Koeppel, who considers himself a conservative, told The Daily Signal on Wednesday when asked why he chose to speak out against certain policies in St. Tammany Parish Public Schools.
“I started noticing kids talking about political topics that were being brought up in other classes by their teachers, and realized that someone had to get this conversation started,” he said. “I just happened to be that someone.”
A Louisiana native, Koeppel, 26, began teaching Spanish at Fontainebleau High School in Mandeville, about 40 miles north of New Orleans, in 2020.
Just over a year later, on Aug. 13, he received a letter signed by school district Superintendent Frank Jabbia notifying him of his dismissal. The letter did not contain a reason for his termination, Koeppel said.
The Daily Signal sought comment from Jabbia and Peter Jabbia, associate superintendent of human resources.
“We cannot comment on personnel matters,” Meredith Mendez, the school district’s communications director, responded in an email Wednesday.
No ‘Legitimate Reason’ for Firing
Koeppel said he intends to file a lawsuit against the district. In an email Thursday to The Daily Signal, his lawyer, Kevin Vogeltanz, said:
The evidence suggests that Mr. Koeppel was not terminated for any legitimate reason but because of the protected, political beliefs he expressed in public on a range of issues, including the recent requirement that all teachers and students in the school system wear face coverings while in school.
Koeppel first gained media attention in April, after a video of him speaking at a school board meeting went viral.
During that meeting, the Spanish teacher raised concerns about the St. Tammany Parish school system’s use of an education application called BrainPOP. The app contains content that tells “our black children that they are oppressed by white people,” Koeppel, who is white, said after playing an audio clip from the app.
Koeppel played a second BrainPOP audio clip that tells children how to use gender-neutral pronouns, such as “they,” when someone’s preferred pronoun isn’t known.
Adults can choose how they want to live their lives, but “don’t push this ideology on children,” Koeppel pleaded with the school board.
After that board meeting, Johnny Vitrano, principal of Fontainebleau High School, called Koeppel into his office.
“The principal was like, ‘This is on the internet, be careful, you have a target on your back … ,’” Koeppel told The Daily Signal, adding that his interpretation of the conversation was that the principal didn’t want to bring negative attention to the school.
Koeppel spoke again at a school board meeting in May. This time, he raised concerns about high school teachers “indoctrinating kids in [the] classroom and discriminating based on political affiliation,” he told The Daily Signal during a phone call Tuesday.
One day after that board meeting, Vitrano again called the teacher into his office. The principal explained that Koeppel should not speak at board meetings, but “just talk to him,” Koeppel said.
Vitrano did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment.
Over the summer, Koeppel said, he continued to speak out on education issues in Louisiana and across America, including at a state Senate hearing and conservative conferences.
Koeppel returned to work Aug. 3 at Fontainebleau High School. When he entered the school cafeteria where teachers were gathered for a “welcome back” breakfast, he said, his principal immediately approached.
Vitrano asked whether he was going to wear a mask because of COVID-19, Koeppel recalled.
When the teacher said no, Vitrano instructed him to leave campus and informed him of a hearing Aug. 5 about his job.
Koeppel told The Daily Signal that he already had received a medical exemption from the school, allowing him not to wear a mask because of a boxing injury. The teacher said he believes the principal either forgot or did not know the exemption had been approved.
The Aug. 5 hearing ended soon after it was determined that the school had approved Koeppel’s exemption from the mask mandate, the teacher said.
‘Sick and Tired’
That evening, Koeppel again spoke at a school board meeting, this time against the school’s mask mandate, which follows Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ statewide requirement that masks be worn indoors.
The next day, the school district barred him from “all school board property, activities, and meetings,” Koeppel said.
Vitrano and an assistant superintendent, Michael Cossé, called Koeppel to a second hearing Aug. 10. They said they had concerns about his “social media, the things I do in public, shooting guns and having videos of that—all kinds of free speech issues,” Koeppel said.
Three days later, the school district formally fired him.
The St. Tammany Federation of Teachers and School Employees supported Koeppel throughout the two hearings. The union president, Brant Osborn, has “been very helpful,” Koeppel said.
The union did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment.
The teacher has asked for public help in raising money to cover the costs of his lawsuit.
He made the decision to take legal action against the school district, Koeppel said, “for all the people that are like me, that are free thinkers, [and] are sick and tired of being pushed around by the public education system just for being conservative.”
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