JOHNSTON, Iowa — Neal Patel is in his third year as a physical science teacher in the Johnston Community School District and says he is fed up with local politics and its personal attacks on how he should do his job.
“I’m for sure leaving. Johnston offered an early resignation incentive and the timing of the school board and me generally being unhappy with going to work. Even though I love working with kids, I’m generally unhappy going to work,” said Patel.
Patel says he tries to create a welcoming classroom for all students and reinforces that with flags for the LGBTQ community and racial justice. He says there are teachers worried that three new school board members backed by the “1776 Pledge” will threaten the inclusiveness in the classroom.
Patel’s first experience with a similar mindset came last May when current Iowa Republican Rep. Steve Holt, who represents Crawford County, took to Facebook with a picture taken inside Patel’s Polk County classroom. The post attacked the flags he had on display, saying in part: “Left-wing political activism taught through critical race theory and/or anti-racism training is inappropriate on the taxpayer’s dime. We will continue to work to stop left-wing indoctrination of our students.”
Last Thursday, as the Johnston Community School District weighed banning two books about race in society written by authors of color, Iowa Republican Sen. Jake Chapman, who represents neighboring Dallas County, insinuated that teachers could be prosecuted for books deemed obscene in the curriculum.
For Patel, having politicians take aim at his profession was enough to re-think his future in education. “I’m not going to be something that can be politicized and weaponized against what I stand for. It’s frustrating that people are trying to capitalize on me creating a welcoming environment for students who don’t feel that way in their community,” said Patel.
Patel will be stepping away at the end of the school year. He says he is currently one of two teachers of color in a core subject that works for the district.
After learning of Patel’s decision to resign, Holt released the following statement:
“In my Facebook post, I never mentioned the teacher by name nor did I call for anyone to be terminated or dismissed. It is not within my character to do that,” Holt said. “I feel strongly that our public schools should not be a place for political indoctrination of any kind. I stand by what I have said on this matter and will continue to use my voice and fight against any political indoctrination on taxpayer money.”