Student, teacher in T-shirt flap appear at school

Samantha Pawlucy is overcome as supporters sing "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Samantha Pawlucy is overcome as supporters sing "The Star-Spangled Banner." (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 11, 2012

The student and teacher at the center of the Romney/Ryan T-shirt controversy returned to Charles Carroll High School on Tuesday - briefly and for different purposes.

Samantha Pawlucy, the sophomore who received a highly publicized classroom dressing-down by her math teacher for wearing the pink T-shirt, appeared overwhelmed as she was greeted by supporters outside the Port Richmond school.

Pawlucy read from the Declaration of Independence at a brief rally before school. As the group of about two dozen supporters crowded around to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner," the 16-year-old held her hand to her mouth, tears filling her eyes.

Then, just over an hour after cheers of "Go Sam!" and "You're great, Sam!" followed her entrance inside the building, the teenager left, her family's lawyer said, unable to finish the day because she felt "uncomfortable."

Lynette Gaymon, Pawlucy's former geometry teacher, who came under fire for ridiculing her about the T-shirt, later came to the school. Gaymon addressed the student body in a series of assemblies designed to ease school tensions. She read from a letter to express regret for the aftermath of what she called "a light and humorous remark."

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

The brief appearances by the student and teacher, both of whom have stayed away from the school since the Sept. 28 incident made national headlines, were intended to allow Pawlucy to resume classes.

But the student and teacher never met, Pawlucy leaving the school before Gaymon arrived. It is unclear when either will return to the school.

While Pawlucy faced the glare of media attention in the morning, Gaymon dodged it and faced the student body.

Seated on folding chairs in the school gym, students heard Gaymon's apology and reading of the letter. Gaymon was met with cheers, said Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan, who was at the three assemblies.

"I was so happy to see how much the children really cared for her and she cared for them. That was really very, very evident," Jordan said. "It wasn't just the students that she teaches, but all the students in the school."

Gaymon had written the letter addressed to the students, which began, "Good morning, my babies." Principal Joyce Hoog received the letter Tuesday morning and distributed it to all teachers to be read aloud during first period.

Wally Zimolong, the attorney for the Pawlucy family, said the teen left school when she learned Gaymon was not expected to arrive.

"She felt that the teacher's absence that day and unwillingness to speak to the students was going to be a problem," Zimolong said. "It wasn't going to be a normal day."

Gaymon later did show up to deliver an apology and read from the letter. Pawlucy's mother, Kristine, was present at the assemblies.

But both sides disagree strongly as to what brought Gaymon to the school.

Zimolong said Gaymon had agreed in a meeting Monday to make a public apology in person. The agreement, Zimolong said, was to include two parts he said were crucial: an apology for the statements Gaymon made Sept. 28, and denouncing the statements as wrong for the teacher to have made.

Zimolong said Gaymon's letter did not include those two parts, and the teacher's initial absence Tuesday exacerbated the situation.

Only after Zimolong contacted the School District and demanded Gaymon's in-person apology did she arrive, he said, prefacing the reading of her letter with an apology that satisfied the Pawlucys' terms.

Jordan, the teachers' union president, disagreed with Zimolong's account.

The plan, he said, was always to have a statement from the teacher delivered to the school and have that statement read by teachers, as occurred Tuesday morning.

Jordan was not at the meeting Monday where, Zimolong said, an agreement was reached to have Gaymon apologize in person.

Jordan said he thought the problem was in the word delivered. Jordan said he believed the Pawlucys thought Gaymon would deliver an apology aloud, while Gaymon's intention was to have a statement delivered to the school.

When district officials contacted him about an in-person apology Tuesday, Jordan said, he agreed if Gaymon wanted to do so.

Gaymon did, he said, and agreed to apologize for the Sept. 28 statements.

Gaymon went to the school on her own accord and against the wishes of her family, who feared for her safety, according to her relatives.

Zimolong blamed the union for interfering with Tuesday's events.

"Really, Superintendent [William] Hite was excellent," Zimolong said. "The union got involved and was the reason she decided to take a personal day and not show up, and initially would not agree to apologize personally or admit what she did was wrong."

Jordan rejected the criticism.

"It's absolutely inaccurate. At no time has the union done or said anything about what she should or should not do, other than today, when I told her that certainly, if she felt comfortable in going there to speak, then that's what she should do for her kids," Jordan said. "So he's totally wrong in saying that."


Contact Jonathan Lai at 215-854-2771, jlai@philly.com, or on Twitter @elaijuh.

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