Port Richmond girl: ‘I’ll still wear the shirt’

Sam­antha Pawlucy, 16, wore a Rom­ney-Ry­an shirt to school one day. After her math teach­er mocked her and was re­moved from teach­ing that class, Pawlucy’s now the fo­cus of a na­tion­wide dis­cus­sion on free speech. She re­turned to school Tues­day for a short time, but will now re­portedly trans­fer.

Ed. note: This story has been up­dated from the print ver­sion.

It all began with a T-shirt.

Sam­antha Pawlucy de­cided to wear a pink shirt bear­ing the Mitt Rom­ney-Paul Ry­an cam­paign logo to school on Fri­day, Sept. 28. Charles Car­roll High School in Port Rich­mond was hav­ing a “dress down” day.

Pawlucy, a 16-year-old sopho­more, said she ex­pec­ted, if any­thing, that some stu­dents might re­act to the shirt if they didn’t share her polit­ic­al views.

What she didn’t ex­pect, though, was a re­ac­tion from her teach­er that’s stim­u­lated a di­vis­ive na­tion­wide free speech is­sue, with threats of bod­ily harm be­ing hurled at both parties.

The en­su­ing me­dia whirl­wind and a host of in­ter­views have all left Pawlucy, in her own words, simply “tired.” She said, though, that she’s try­ing to keep her chin up.

“I’m do­ing okay,” Pawlucy said in a phone in­ter­view Monday. “My par­ents give me sup­port.”

On that Fri­day, Pawlucy said, her geo­metry teach­er, Lynette Gay­mon, began mak­ing fun of her upon see­ing the Rom­ney-Ry­an shirt. Pawlucy said Gay­mon called the school “Demo­crat­ic,” and said Pawlucy’s wear­ing of the Rom­ney shirt was the same as Gay­mon, who is black, wear­ing a Ku Klux Klan shirt.

An adult teach­er’s aide also waved a mark­er as if to draw an “X” on the shirt, Pawlucy said. Gay­mon, Pawlucy said, also went in­to the hall­way to en­cour­age oth­er stu­dents and teach­ers to mock her.

That’s when Pawlucy said she was most em­bar­rassed.

“She was one of my fa­vor­ite teach­ers,” Pawlucy said. “I con­sidered her a friend.”

Pawlucy re­turned to school Tues­day amid a crowd of over 50 vet­er­ans and free­dom of speech sup­port­ers.

Vet­er­ans car­ry­ing Amer­ic­an flags and signs bear­ing mes­sages such as “Sam­antha: Hon­or­ary Vet” and “We Sup­port You Sam­antha” stood by as she ar­rived at her high school for classes.

Pawlucy also read the pre­amble to the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion and the text of the First Amend­ment to an en­thu­si­ast­ic crowd, in­clud­ing Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate for the Pennsylvania House, Dave Kralle.

But ac­cord­ing to her fath­er, she won’t be re­turn­ing to the school. Her fath­er, Richard Pawlucy, told the Phil­adelphia In­quirer Wed­nes­day that Sam­antha re­portedly ex­pec­ted to re­ceive an in-per­son apo­logy from Gay­mon Tues­day, but was in­stead told that Gay­mon had taken a per­son­al day.

That, plus oth­er stu­dents’ be­ha­vi­or mak­ing her “un­com­fort­able,” led Sam­antha to cut the school-day short, Richard Pawlucy said. He said Sam­antha will trans­fer to an­oth­er school.

Gay­mon re­portedly did ar­rive at the school after Sam­antha had left and read an apo­logy let­ter to the stu­dents.

The let­ter re­portedly read, “Good morn­ing, my ba­bies … I’m very sorry for all 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. … My words were nev­er meant to be­little Ms. Pawlucy, or cause any harm.”

It was re­por­ted that Sam­antha’s step­moth­er, Kristine Pawlucy, was present at the as­sembly in which Gay­mon read the let­ter. The Pawlucy fam­ily, nor Gay­mon, could not be reached for com­ment Wed­nes­day.

Kristine Pawlucy said Monday that in a meet­ing Oct. 1, Gay­mon is­sued what the Pawlucys called an in­sin­cere apo­logy, with Gay­mon say­ing she had been jok­ing, and Sam­antha should have known that.

On Monday, Kristine Pawlucy also told Star that she was dis­ap­poin­ted that Gay­mon hasn’t called for stu­dents to stop threat­en­ing Sam­antha, and hasn’t con­tac­ted Sam­antha dir­ectly.

But it was re­por­ted that Gay­mon did, in her state­ment Tues­day, call for the threats against Sam­antha to stop.

“I’m very dis­turbed by the neg­at­ive and hate­ful words and mes­sages that have been dir­ec­ted at Sam Pawlucy,” the let­ter re­portedly read. “The bul­ly­ing of Sam - on Face­book, Twit­ter, or oth­er­wise - has to stop.”

But an apo­logy at this point, Kristine Pawlucy said Monday, would do little to heal the situ­ation.

“An apo­logy now, in my eyes, and in Sam’s…” she said, “…It’s too late.”

Sam­antha Pawlucy said Gay­mon is fun in the classroom, and makes her stu­dents laugh.

“The stu­dents have turned on her be­cause they don’t un­der­stand what the teach­er did,” Kristine Pawlucy said. “It’s been so twis­ted by what the teach­er said that they’re get­ting misled.”

Of re­turn­ing to school, Sam­antha said Monday, “I’m not wor­ried about people say­ing stuff, I’m wor­ried about a whole bunch of people at­tack­ing me.”

Richard Pawlucy spoke about his daugh­ter’s situ­ation last week on host Larry Mendte’s ra­dio show on IQ 106.9, which broad­casts out of an aban­doned fact­ory in Fishtown.

He said he was very angry about threats that have made his daugh­ter afraid.

“Sam­antha was home schooled for the longest time, she had is­sues with go­ing to pub­lic places…she went to ther­apy so she could go to school,” he said on Mendte’s show. “She cried as soon as she saw the front door of a school. It took us months to break her out of this, and now she’s back where she was two years ago.”

“They un­did everything we did, all that hard work,” Richard Pawlucy said. “I am so angry about that.”

Sam­antha Pawlucy said she’s seen on Face­book and heard from oth­ers that class­mates and friends have is­sued threats to­ward her, with some stu­dents ask­ing around about where Pawlucy lives.

“They think I’m ly­ing for at­ten­tion,” she said, adding that some of her friends are act­ing two-faced — she said they will post pub­licly on Face­book that they don’t sup­port her, and then send her per­son­al mes­sages that they do.

Kristine Pawlucy said she be­lieves stu­dents turn­ing on Sam­antha is a res­ult of Gay­mon’s ac­tions. She said the teach­er told stu­dents that Sam­antha got Gay­mon “in trouble,” and that’s why Gay­mon can’t teach the geo­metry class any­more.

Phil­adelphia School Dis­trict spokes­man Fernando Gal­lard con­firmed in a phone in­ter­view Fri­day that Gay­mon is no longer teach­ing the geo­metry class, but is still teach­ing at the school. Gay­mon is re­portedly set to have a hear­ing soon as part of an in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to her fu­ture at the school.

Gal­lard said the fam­ily has been in con­tact with both the dis­trict and the school, and the fam­ily has re­ceived an apo­logy from Su­per­in­tend­ent Wil­li­am Hite.

Kristine Pawlucy said May­or Nut­ter also apo­lo­gized to the fam­ily at their home on Sunday.

The In­quirer re­por­ted this week that Gay­mon’s aunts said she is “a jokester,” and that she told them she left the school the day of the in­cid­ent be­liev­ing her stu­dents, in­clud­ing Pawlucy, knew she had been jok­ing.

Kristine Pawlucy said she be­lieves Gay­mon has ac­ted in­ap­pro­pri­ately since the in­cid­ent, and that Gay­mon shouldn’t teach at the school any­more.

“I don’t know of any par­ent out there that would want her teach­ing their child,” she said.

Kristine said she’s “noth­ing but proud” of her step­daugh­ter’s ac­tions in the face of the storm.

“I don’t think I would have been this strong at her age,” she said.

Sam­antha said giv­en the chance, she would wear the shirt again, and that she be­lieves stu­dents should have the right to ex­press their views in their cloth­ing.

“People should wear whatever they want,” she said. “It’s free­dom of speech.”

As for Gay­mon, Sam­antha Pawlucy said she doesn’t want her to be her teach­er any­more.

“I don’t want her to be threatened, either,” she said.

Man­aging ed­it­or Mi­kala Jam­is­on can be reached at 215-354-3113 or at mjam­is­on@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

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