Idaho’s 2023 Teacher of the Year has fled the state after facing vicious attacks from right-wing parents.
Fourth-grade teacher Karen Lauritzen told the Boston Globe it has been one of the worst years ever in her two-decade-long career. After being honored as Teacher of the Year, conservatives began attacking Lauritzen for her previous social media posts supporting LGBTQ+ people.
The conservative Idaho Tribune called Lauritzen a “left-wing activist” who “follows drag queens on social media, promotes LGBT events, promotes transgenderism, Black Lives Matter, and is active in local politics, promoting liberal ideology.” The article also blasted her for liking posts on social and emotional learning — a style of instruction that encourages healthy self-awareness, decision-making, and interpersonal skills — which the article described as “a left-wing ideology.”
“Would Lauritzen be happy to cultivate transgender ideologies among your children? Probably,” stated an article on Action Idaho, another conservative website. It added, “She is getting her PHD in advanced education at University of Idaho, no doubt learning all the latest trends in queer theory and social and emotional learning.”
Lauritzen taught in a rural area, and the public outrage reportedly led concerned parents to bombard her with emails and accusations about her teaching inappropriate lessons to her students. All of this despite the fact that they had no proof that she had incorporated either her personal beliefs or any topics of sexuality into her lessons. Parents became so alarmed that some told her to stop teaching lessons about the United Nations.
“When it’s, ‘My kid can’t do this because it’s propaganda,’ and ‘My kid can’t do that because we don’t believe in United Nations,’ it’s like, what? It’s not Santa Claus, what do you mean you don’t believe in it?” she told the Globe. “Even if I have certain beliefs myself, that does not mean that I teach kids. It’s not my job to ‘indoctrinate’ or make kids little versions of myself. It’s to make kids into the best versions of themselves.”
Lauritzen fled to Illinois to work at a university.
The Teacher of the Year program is national and was implemented by President Eisenhower in 1952. Every state chooses its own Teacher of the Year, and they then compete in a national contest. But now, many are worried that across the country, the competitions have gotten too political.
In Arkansas, for example, the questions on the contest form were recently updated to require praise for a new education law signed by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The form reportedly asked teachers how Sanders’s anti-critical race theory and anti-LGBTQ+ laws had positively impacted students.
It’s also happening in blue states, according to the Globe. California, for example, asks teachers to show how their work supports the initiatives of the state superintendent of public instruction.
And Lauritzen isn’t the only winner who has been driven out of town, either. Willie Carver, who is gay, won Kentucky Teacher of the Year in 2021. But parents began attacking his support of an LGBTQ+-affirming club for students. He didn’t receive support from the school district, so he resigned.
“It was affecting me emotionally so much because of having to fight and how tiring that was and the depression that comes with being abused,” he said, “and as much as I wanted [students] to see a queer teacher… I didn’t want them to assume they would have to be depressed and broken as well.”