SLO High teacher resigns, receives death threat over anti-gay letter

Protest at SLO High after anti-gay letter published in school newspaper

Michelle Call, a San Luis Obispo parent with a daughter in seventh grade, says about 50 people protested at San Luis Obispo High School on Thursday, May 11, 2017, after a teacher wrote a letter to the school newspaper in opposition to an issue foc
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Michelle Call, a San Luis Obispo parent with a daughter in seventh grade, says about 50 people protested at San Luis Obispo High School on Thursday, May 11, 2017, after a teacher wrote a letter to the school newspaper in opposition to an issue foc

A San Luis Obispo High School teacher has resigned in the face of widespread outrage over a letter he wrote to the school student newspaper that cited a Biblical passage saying those who commit homosexual acts “deserve to die.”

Special education teacher Michael Stack did not show up to work Thursday but sent the school an email at 1:07 p.m., which he also copied to Fox News, tendering his resignation, noting “the community apparently wants me out, so I hereby grant them their desires.”

Late Thursday morning, someone called the school and threatened Stack’s life, according to San Luis Coastal Unified School District Superintendent Eric Prater.

“We are concerned for his safety,” Prater said.

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Prater and San Luis Obispo High School Principal Leslie O’Connor said school officials were already concerned about Stack when he didn’t show up to work and they were unable to contact him. They called the police and sent two assistant principals to check on him at his home. They weren’t able to locate him but spoke to a relative there, who did not know his whereabouts.

As of Thursday evening, school officials said they had no direct communication with Stack since he left campus before the end of the school day Wednesday. They don’t believe Stack was aware of the death threat Thursday.

In his resignation letter, which the district provided to The Tribune, Stack defended his right to free speech, saying, “I exercised my First Amendment rights and submitted my opinion to a public forum.”

“In it I quoted, verbatim, Romans 1: 16-32,” Stack wrote. “Now people are exercising THEIR First Amendment rights by responding to that letter. This is how America is designed to function.”

Prater said that the district has asked its education attorney, Mike Smith of the Fresno-based firm Lozano Smith, to determine if Stack — by submitting the letter, essentially proselytizing, to the student newspaper — could have been disciplined or whether he would have been protected under the First Amendment. Their initial position was that his letter fell under First Amendment protections.

Stack’s letter received widespread community criticism that it was inappropriate for a teacher at a public school to espouse religious beliefs. Some community members in online forums supported his right to express his views outside of the classroom setting in the form of a letter.

Stack’s letter was published online Tuesday in response to the May issue of the student newspaper, Expressions, which contained three articles focusing on LGBTQ issues. The cover photo of that edition featured two women kissing.

An estimated 60 people showed up to protest teacher Michael Stack in front of San Luis Obispo High School on Thursday, May 11, 2017. Rally organizer Michelle Call said she was aware of at least two students who were afraid to attend school while Stack, who wrote a letter saying gay people “deserve to die,” remained employed there. Carol Comeau

In his letter to the editor, which the student newspaper staff decided to publish in consultation with its teacher adviser, Stack cited an excerpt from the Book of Romans referring to the sinfulness of homosexuality. He wrote that the passage describes “a deception that has happened in the past, and is happening again right now, not only at SLOHS, but throughout the world.”

The passage states that women and men who engage in homosexual acts were abandoned by God and their lives “became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip.”

“They know God’s justice required that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway,” the passage continues.

In his resignation letter, Stack wrote that he’s “not ashamed of the Gospel” and attempted to reply to six comments on the student newspaper’s website, but his replies didn’t appear on the site.

O’Connor said that the student journalists shut down public comments on the letter to try to calm the heated public debate.

O’Connor also said that he conducted an investigation into a gay student’s comments that, during a study-skills class, Stack had requested a private conversation with her about religion at some later time. O’Connor spoke with the student and others present and verified that Stack made the request.

“It’s inappropriate and poor judgment when a teacher or school official in public education wants to have a private conversation about religion with a student,” O’Connor said.

That conversation took place before Stack’s letter to the editor was published, school officials said.

School officials said that given his letter, Stack’s request to speak privately with a student about religion could have warranted disciplinary review.

O’Connor said that Stack’s viewpoint comes from a place of religious conviction, adding that he believes Stack is a “very good and decent” person.

San Luis Obispo Tribune staff writer Andrew Sheeler contributed to this report.