For most kids, walking into class and seeing a substitute teacher sitting behind the desk was a dream come true. It usually meant you’d be kicking back, watching a movie, and leaving labor-intensive projects for when the usual teacher returned. Class would be a breeze.
But for one 11-year-old student at a Utah elementary school, a visit from a substitute made his life anything but easy. Rude and hateful comments she made towards him shook the entire community, and he knew he couldn’t sit idly by and let her get away with it.
When a woman was filling in for a teacher at Utah’s Deerfield Elementary School in the Alpine School District, the students were undoubtedly excited to have a substitute for the day. They didn’t know this sub had no problem speaking freely, no matter the consequences.
On November 21, 2019, in preparation for Thanksgiving, the substitute asked the eager fifth graders what they were thankful for that year. Within the lighthearted, positive discussion that followed was an answer that turned heads.
An 11-year-old boy, Daniel, excitedly responded to the question, saying “I’m thankful that I’m finally going to be adopted by my two dads.” The substitute teacher considered this response.
She said, “Why on earth would you be happy about that?” She continued, going on for about 10 minutes as to why “homosexuality is wrong” and “two men living together is a sin.” Girl, no one asked you!
Then, she looked Daniel dead in the eyes and finished with “That’s nothing to be thankful for.” The little boy was rattled. Thankfully, among the class of 30 children, three were brave enough to put an end to her wild speech.
rolohauck / Flickr
After three girls left the classroom to notify the principal of the substitute teacher’s behavior, she was promptly escorted out of Deerfield Elementary. But the story was far from over.
Louis van Amstel, one of Daniel’s dads and a Dancing with the Stars performer, posted about the upsetting incident on social media after his son explained everything to him.
Van Amstel told The Salt Lake Tribune that he greatly appreciated the girls defending his son. It was an inspiring moment to say the least. But van Amstel was still questioning why Deerfield Elementary employed the woman to begin with.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous and horrible what she did. We were livid. It’s 2019 and this is a public school,” van Amstel wrote online. Even Daniel couldn’t keep his thoughts to himself.
@LouisVanAmstel / Twitter
“I was very mad. Because it isn’t — it’s not right — nice to insult other families, even if you don’t like them. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it,” Daniel later told CBS This Morning. The dads worried about unintended consequences.
See, Louis van Amstel and his husband, Josh van Amstel, disclosed that, considering Daniel experienced two unsuccessful adoptions, he was worried he wouldn’t be officially adopted by the van Amstels due to the nature of the substitute’s comments.
Louis van Amstel / Instagram
Alpine School District, as well as all other school districts in Utah County, hires its substitutes via Kelly Services. “We are concerned about any reports of inappropriate conduct and take these matters very seriously,” Kelly Services stated regarding the incident.
After investigating her comments, the staffing company relayed that it “made the decision to end the employee’s relationship with Kelly Services.” But not all school districts use Kelly services…
Reuters/ Kevin Lamarque
Ben Rasmussen, the Director of Law and Professional Practices at the Utah State Board of Education, explained that there’s no statewide database for substitutes who have been terminated or condemned.
“At this point, we don’t have anything. Districts just have to check references as best they can,” Ben Rasmussen said, disappointed that there’s no approved system for reporting concerns regarding substitute teachers in Utah.
Since there isn’t much state code that regulates student teaching, districts are simply encouraged to set up their own policies. The only thing that’s set in stone is that schools can’t hire those who’ve had their teaching licenses suspended or revoked.
Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times
Believe it or not, substitute teachers don’t need a license to be hired, but it does give an applicant a substantial leg up. Though there’s no required documentation of fireable offenses in the state, applicants must pass a background check, which is something Alpine School District clarified.
Kelly Services’ website notes that its extensive applicant training includes “comprehensive classroom management techniques, information on legal and health issues, teaching strategies, how to be prepared and professional, plus appropriate fill-in activities.”
Though this incident seemed to set back American sociopolitical progress, it’s comforting to know the discrimination was immediately halted and that there are pure souls out there, willing to defend those who blossom with uniqueness; and we’re not surprised that, in this case, they were children.
Children Helping Children
Sadly, sweet children don’t always have the power to overrule adults. While Deerfield Elementary’s staff and Kelly Services acted appropriately in this case, sometimes it’s the administration members whose true colors reveal outdated intolerance.
Jocelyn Morffi is a 32-year-old woman who lives in Miami, Florida. She was a first-grade teacher and she loved what she did, the kids loved her back, and the parents adored her as a teacher. Everything was perfect — or so it seemed.
Jocelyn was well known by the parents and staff and was one of the most popular teachers at the school. Parents of her students praised her and referred to Miss Morffi as the “Mother Teresa of teachers, and for a good reason!
As a teacher of children who are so young and impressionable, Jocelyn found it difficult to talk to her students about the tragedies that occur around the world on a daily basis. She wanted her conversations with them to be filled with hope rather than fear.
St. Peter and Paul Catholic School
Together with her class, she started brainstorming ideas on how to give back to the community and instill hope in her students. They came up with the idea to volunteer at their local homeless shelter.
Jocelyn Morffi / Facebook
Jocelyn recalled, “When I came back from that first feeding, I asked the school if it’s possible for them to back me up, and I got authorization to send out a letter to the parents stating what’s going on and if they would like to contribute in any way.”
Additionally, Jocelyn used her platform on social media to start a program to encourage her students, their parents, and the community to join her in her new initiative. She used the hashtag #TeachHope to spread the word.
Jocelyn Morffi / Facebook
With her social media campaign and the support of her students, Jocelyn was ready to start her campaign and could only hope that the community followed in her footsteps.
Jocelyn Morffi / Facebook
Jocelyn was overwhelmed with support when her students and their parents showed up to volunteer at the homeless shelter with her. Parents also brought generous donations like loves of bread, meats, cheeses, and snacks to bag up and hand out.
Miss Morffi’s students were passionate about her new program. A class parent and co-worker stated, “They wake me up bright and early on Sunday saying, ‘Mom, we have to teach hope.'” She was an integral part of the school, community, and their lives.
Having their kids spend every day with the “Mother Theresa of teachers” is every parent’s dream. That’s why the parents were immediately concerned when Jocelyn stopped showing up to school — and very confused.
See, Jocelyn was scheduled to have some time off from work because she was celebrating something very special. She was about to marry the love of her life and best friend. She just assumed when it was all over, her life would return to normal.
Prior to the big day, Jocelyn set up a wedding website to show all of the important information regarding her wedding and to inform her guests of the festivities. She set up a wedding hashtag so her loved ones could follow the event online.
The couple planned a weekend-long celebration at the Key Largo Lighthouse estate. On Friday they held a welcome bash, followed by a seaside wedding ceremony on Saturday, with a goodbye barbecue on Sunday… but things didn’t go as planned in the days following.
When parents brought their children to St. Peter and Paul Catholic School following the wedding, they were shocked to see that their beloved teacher had not returned. When the parents learned why Miss Morffi was no longer there, they were outraged.
Since Jocelyn was such a known presence in the community and on social media, the school saw pictures of her wedding ceremony. According to the school, what they saw in those photos left them with no choice but to fire her.
Her Instagram displayed photos of Jocelyn and her wife joining in holy matrimony. Because same-sex marriage is not accepted in the Roman Catholic church, the school relieved Jocelyn of her duties as a teacher at the school.
NY Daily News
Jocelyn took to her social media and wrote this: “This weekend I married the love of my life and unfortunately I was terminated from my job as a result. In their eyes, I’m not the right kind of Catholic for my choice in partner.”
The parents who didn’t follow Miss Morffi on Instagram found out from a letter through the school, which stated that “She is no longer teaching at our school,” and it was “a difficult and necessary decision.”
The following day, dozens of angry parents showed up at the school. One parent told the news, “We feel cheated. She was the best kind of teacher that you can ask for and our kids, everybody, every parent here — our kids loved her.”
Parents threatened to pull their children from the school if she wasn’t reinstated. Unfortunately, Catholic schools, like many other schools, are not subject to the states public school laws. So, in the eyes of the Catholic school board, Miss Morffi was in violation of her contract when she married the woman she loved.
As of 2018, Jocelyn was seeking legal advice to figure out her options. Her attorney stated, “Jocelyn is humbled by all the love and support she has received from family, friends, the students’ parents, and the public. She feels that the manner of her firing was unfair, not only to her but to her students as well.”
Unforunately, it’s stories like Jocelyn’s that cause many people to still feel the need to keep their sexuality hidden — Christopher Landis was no exception. The 43-year-old has been a teacher and a choir director in Massachusetts for the past six years.
“You always walk into his classroom and he’s always there with a positive attitude and maybe a compliment. He’s just so nice,” Summer Foraste, one of Landis’ students, said.
What matters most to Mr. Landis is creating a safe environment where open dialogue is encouraged. His students can talk to him about anything, and they often take him up for it by letting him know what’s going on in their lives.
Since Mr. Landis knows so much about his pupils, he wanted to share some personal news with them too, but something left him feeling hesitant. Despite their love for him, he wasn’t sure how they would take the news.
See, on Christmas Eve of 2016, Christopher got engaged to the love of his life, and was going to be married two years later, at the end of 2018. The couple was excited but also worried about how people would react.
What nobody knew was that Christopher’s significant other was a man named Joe Michienzie. In the past whenever his students or their parents would see them out together he referred to Joe as his “friend”.
The school where Mr. Landis works, Hingham Middle School, is located near the coast of Massachusetts. While MA is a fairly liberal state, there are still groups of people who do not feel safe or accepted for who they are.
Mr. Landis wasn’t sure how his beloved students would feel about him being gay. He feared that they might not approve of his lifestyle and relationship, or worse, that they wouldn’t be comfortable around him anymore.
Despite the couple’s best efforts to keep their engagement on the hush-hush, parents found out about their upcoming nuptials. Without Mr. Landis’ knowledge, they devised a top-secret plan…
“At the end of the summer, I heard he was getting married. He’s the best teacher and he makes every school function fun. We thought, wouldn’t it be awesome to do something for his wedding?” Joy Foraste, whose daughter is one of Landis’ students, said.
Foraste and fellow parent Margit Foley started brainstorming ideas for a surprise in September of 2018. But before starting any real plans, they decided to reach out to make sure it was something Mr. Landis would like.
“We reached out to his fiancé because I wasn’t really sure how he’d feel,” Foley explained. “He was immediately on board. He said he had also been trying to figure out how to incorporate the students because they mean so much to Mr. Landis.”
A group of parents got together and made sure that all his pupils, from sixth to eighth graders, would attend the couple’s wedding with a surprise that would show their full support of their favorite teacher.
“We hoped we’d get at least 15 kids to do it,” said Foraste after emailing the parents of about 60 choir kids. “But instead we had over 50 kids. It’s such a testament to Mr. Landis as a teacher and as a figure in their lives.”
While Foley and Foraste visited the reception venue to clear their plans with the proprietors, the students worked hard on their surprise with the help of Dona Maher, a private chorus teacher who knew Mr. Landis too.
“I was absolutely delighted and honored when they had asked for my help — it was an instantaneous yes from me,” Maher told Wicked Local. “This was a genuinely thoughtful and loving gesture for their teacher.”
With Maher on board, the students showed up every Sunday for four weeks to practice their performance. This meant the kids gave up four weekend days to do something nice for their teacher.
It was the day of the wedding rehearsal, and as soon as the children appeared at the ceremony, the two grooms were overcome with emotion. The kids walked in gracefully, lined up with a smile, and began singing an all too familiar Beatles’ tune…
“There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done, nothing you can sing that can’t be sung, nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game. It’s easy — all you need is love.”
When Mr. Landis realized what was happening, he instantly started to cry. “I noticed everyone was holding video cameras and I was wondering, like, ‘What’s going on?'” Landis told Inside Edition.
“Then I saw the first student come in and I was like ‘Oh my goodness,’ but I don’t think it hit me until all of these students came in, and they were smiling and all dressed up. I started crying and they started crying.”
The whole performance was filmed and posted online, where it soon went viral. “I still get choked up watching it,” a newly-wedded Joe told The New York Times.
“I always referred to him as my friend because I wasn’t sure how the kids or parents would take it,” Landis said. “When they came to sing I felt like they were basically saying: ‘It’s okay. We know who Joe is.’ So now I say: ‘Joe, my husband.'”
At the end of the video, one of the students’ mom’s comes up to Landis to explain the whole situation and inform him about how much they practiced. He was truly blown away by their dedication.
“As a middle-school teacher, I see students struggle to figure out who they are and to deal with personal issues. I was so glad they were there, feeling the love in the room and knowing everything’s going to be okay… that things do work out.”