Ed. note: See image gallery at right, and look for an interview with Samantha Pawlucy in Wednesday’s Star.
A crowd of over 50 veterans and freedom of speech supporters gathered under rainy skies outside Charles Carroll High School Tuesday to show support for Port Richmond’s Samantha Pawlucy, who was reportedly taunted by a teacher for wearing a pro-Mitt Romney T-shirt to school.
Sophomore Pawlucy, 16, was cheered by vets carrying American flags and signs bearing messages such as “Samantha: Honorary Vet” and “We Support You Samantha” as she arrived at her high school for classes.
The teenager became a freedom of speech icon almost overnight after being singled out by her geometry teacher, Lynette Gaymon, when Pawlucy wore the T-shirt to the school’s “dress down day” Sept. 28. Gaymon, who is black, reportedly said Pawlucy’s wearing of the shirt was the same as Gaymon wearing a Ku Klux Klan shirt, and called the school “Democratic.”
Gaymon could not be reached for comment.
On Tuesday, Pawlucy read the preamble to the U.S. Constitution and the text of the First Amendment to an enthusiastic crowd.
“We wanted to come here and form a wall of flags to support Samantha,” said Rich Davis, who organized support for this rally from his veterans group, the American Sheepdogs. “She’s a young kid, and she’s had a rough time. We just want to make her feel better about what she’s gone through.”
Supporters of Samantha came from around the Philadelphia area, and many said they were not here to support Mitt Romney, but to defend Samantha’s right to wear a Mitt Romney shirt.
“Today is about free speech,” said Janet O’Neill, of Bucks County. “If Samantha had a shirt on that said Obama and people came after her, I’d still be here to defend her right to speech.”
Republican candidate for the Pennsylvania House, Dave Kralle, has called for Gaymon to be fired, and urged supporters to attend this rally.
“I am here for Romney too,” said Dennis Heffernan, of Olney, who served in the U.S. Army’s transportation department in the 1960s, “But this is about free speech. You can wear any shirt you want.”
ldquo;I don’t think they would have come down so hard on her [if she wore an Obama shirt],” said Elaine Couch, of Mayfair. “This is a Democratic town. Anything that says R-R [Romney-Ryan] is totally unacceptable.”
“It’s terrible, what happened to her,” said Trudy Beckshi, 77, of Newtown. “These vets put on a uniform so she could have free speech. Teachers should be supporting students, not intimidating them.”
Samantha told Star Monday that she was very nervous about returning to school after receiving threats to her physical wellbeing. She was also escorted to school by her father Richard Pawlucy and stepmother Kristine Pawlucy.
“I’m here in support of Samantha and free speech,” said Skye Marshall, 25, who traveled for 45 minutes from Upper Darby to participate in the rally. “It doesn’t matter what candidate she supports, the school should protect students.
State Rep. John Taylor and his office have been in contact with Pawlucy.
Taylor said he is most concerned about the girl’s safety, adding that she should not have been singled out for ridicule. His office has been in contact with the school district’s safe schools advocate, School Reform Commission chairman Pedro Ramos and Superintendent William Hite. The lawmaker blames Carroll officials for letting the situation get out of control.
“They’ve mishandled this from minute one,” he said. “That could have been a teaching moment.”
William Dunbar, a Port Richmond resident and Taylor’s Democratic opponent, said the teacher could have used the episode to conduct a mock debate of issues.
“The window was open to teach those young impressionable students about freedom of speech,” he said.
Reporter Sam Newhouse can be reached at 215-354-3113 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reporter Tom Waring contributed to this article. He can be reached at 215-354-3034 or at email@example.com.