TOMS RIVER – The remote learning conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic collided with the nation’s politically charged environment when a township high school student was asked to leave class for having a Trump flag visible behind him.
Anthony Ribeiro, a 17-year-old Toms River High School North junior, received a birthday present from his aunt earlier in the week in the form of a flag supporting President Donald Trump. Ribeiro, who has taken an interest in politics, put the flag in his room.
While nothing was said of this for his first six classes, it changed during his last class of the day on October 8, chemistry. According to Ribeiro, the teacher said that the virtual classroom was no place for politics and that he’d have to remove the flag.
“I was the first in because I make sure I am on time but he looked up at the screen, didn’t say anything and as people came in, he took attendance and then said ‘Anthony take the flag down right now.’ My mic was muted because that is one of the requirements for meets this year and shook my head no and he said (his) room wasn’t a place for politics and that was not acceptable and ‘if you aren’t going to take it down you will have to get out of this class.’”
The student however said that his teacher had brought politics up during the first week of class in September.
“The school set up a system with a period of 15 minutes between every other class where you would talk about mental health and talk about what was going on in the world and (the teacher) decided to talk about global warming for most of the days and he would bring politics into it. In learning, you need to have politics in social studies or history but teachers have to be down the middle when it comes to being a Democrat or Republican,” Ribeiro said.
The student added, “he said Republicans don’t believe in climate change or global warming and Joe Biden and the Democrats are the people that will put light on what the science is to global warming. In one of his class periods he said ‘that is why they have my vote this year in the election and hopefully in the future they will have yours.’ He said Republicans deny global warming is even a thing, which made it political.”
He said some of his fellow students had found it hypocritical. “A couple people texted me through social media afterward and said it was crazy for him to say there was no politics in his room when he makes political remarks.”
Ribeiro’s mother, Tara Jost was not pleased to hear that her son had been asked to leave the classroom and immediately contacted the school. She reached out to the school superintendent and high school principal. “This is in my own house,” Jost said and while she and her son understand that some restrictions are in place for students not to wear pajamas or be in bed during their online instruction that there were no rules known about decorations in a room.
She said Asst. Superintendent Cara DiMeo had said the teacher’s actions were wrong and that the matter had been discussed with him.
“I said how dare he (the teacher) tell my son to leave his classroom because of something I have in my home? He’s a science teacher number one, number two we’re Americans and we all have the right in what we believe in and he was talking politics the first week of class which he has no right to do in telling them who to vote for,” she said.
If a student wore a Trump shirt to school, during in-person education, they would not be asked to leave, she said.
The situation continued on October 9 when Ribeiro’s English teacher noticed the Trump flag and told him to remove it or he would have to leave the class. He agreed to do so but his mother wished he had not.
Ribeiro said he was a year away from being able to vote and during the pandemic has become very active in following the news and learning more about the political world. He noted being well aware of how divided people are at the current time including division within families and friends who have differing viewpoints.
A representative from the district said that they cannot comment since it is an internal matter.