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 firstname.lastname@example.org.