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Austin school teacher's firing stirs up controversy

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A former elementary school teacher in Austin, Texas says she was fired over a TikTok video and now she’s advocating for policy changes to keep this from happening to someone else.

In March of this year, former Becker Elementary third-grade teacher Sophia Deloretto-Chudy says a school administrator called her into a meeting for a check-in. Being a first-year educator hired with no teaching experience, she thought the meeting would address the challenges she was facing in her new role.

“The whole meeting just felt just incredibly demoralizing. She did not once ask me how I was doing if I enjoyed teaching, if I needed any support,” said Deloretto-Chudy.

Instead, Sophia says the administrator told her she wanted to go over a list of concerns.

It said on this list verbatim, we've noticed an intentional attempt at teaching your students their legal and constitutional rights. And she went on to ask me what brought about the decision for my students to sit during the Pledge of Allegiance” Deloretto-Chudy said.

Sophia says this began with a lesson about the Holocaust. In Texas, schools are required to teach students about the genocide during its remembrance week. Sophia says students drew similarities between nationalism and propaganda from the lesson which motivated them to question the pledge of allegiance and then decided to protest the pledge.

“So, I explained all that to my assistant principal, and she didn't buy it. She didn't believe that they would be able to make the decision on their own,” Deloretto-Chudy said.

Sophia then made what she calls an “emotionally charged decision” to share her concerns about the meeting in a TikTok video.

The next day the former teacher says human resources told her she was being placed on administrative leave.

“And I said why? And they said because your TikTok has been causing a lot of disruptions at the district today,” she said.

While on leave, the Austin Independent School District investigated the matter, later telling her she would be terminated because the video violated the district’s social media policies.

KEYE reached out to the district and asked which specific policy Sophia violated and if AISD would be willing to share the documentation.

In a statement, they said, "The district does not comment on personnel matters."

KEYE searched the district's employee handbook. Under a section about electronic communication and personal use, a policy was found stating:

Employees will be held to the same professional standards in their public use of electronic communication as they are for any other public conduct. If an employee’s use of electronic communication interferes with the employee’s ability to effectively perform his or her job duties, the employee is subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.

The code also restricts employees from sharing confidential records including educator evaluations, which is seen in the video.

“The big thing that I want to come out of this is that I want to see a policy change. This policy specifically was incredibly vague and could be interpreted however the district wanted it to fire teachers and sweep things under the rug. I was not willing to talk away from this quietly knowing that I don’t feel like I violated any of that policy to begin with,” said Deloretto-Chudy.

Some parents contacted KEYE saying Sophia was an unfit teacher and said they had grave concerns about how the story would impact the school’s reputation.

They expressed concerns about this story, saying the teacher is only speaking up as a "stunt" to help propel her career as an activist. However, the teacher tells KEYE she’s sharing her experience because she doesn’t think she violated any policies and the entire situation has put her former students at a disadvantage.

"How does it benefit me to come out publicly like this, like I have had my character attacked? I'm not making any extra money off of this. You don't get money for being viral on Tiktok about political issues. I have been worried about my own safety. And I don't gain anything personally at this point," said Deloretto-Chudy.

Other parents say Sophia was loved and the district’s decision was “chaotic” and “disruptive” and felt the video didn’t put students at risk.

“The decision made by AISD to remove Sophia Deloretto Chudy was disruptive and chaotic. There was no plan put in place by AISD for a temporary or permanent teacher to replace her while under investigation," said one parent. "The countless hours by Becker Elementary Staff and parents of students interrupted was not calculated in the decision beforehand but rather made in hast. From my understanding, there was not one student harmed by Ms. Deloretto Chudy's online presentation but rather AISD's decision to remove a teacher hast harmed a classful of 3rd graders and their parents' trust in the school system."

"Sophia Deloretto Chudy came into a classroom environment of kids needing a connective teacher and they received one. She created a safe space for my child and others to learn to use their voice through communication in a positive ways," they continued. "We, as parents wore in shock and mourning during the Zoom calls with Principal Barrett due to losing a beloved teacher disruptively."

The decision comes while the AISD is working to fill hundreds of vacancies. Deloretto-Chudy says after learning about the large number of open positions, she applied to become a teacher because she wanted to help. She hopes the story will allow grace for other inexperienced teachers who find themselves in her position.

“It just isn't enough to be hiring teachers off the street and then throwing them into classrooms without constant support or programs or at least an opportunity for growth when there are mistakes. I would like to see policies in place that allow for some kind of opportunity for growth for teachers, especially for teachers who didn’t have a huge support system,” she said.

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