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Michael Williams holds protest against teacher at Cherokee County school
Michael Williams

A Forsyth County gubernatorial candidate held a protest this week at a Cherokee County high school after a video of a teacher who asked students to remove pro-Trump shirts went viral online.

On Wednesday, District 27 state Sen. Michael Williams, who represents the majority of Forsyth County, hosted a protest at River Ridge High School in Woodstock urging the school to fire teacher Lyn Orletsky, who made national headlines after telling two students to remove shirts with Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

“We were very excited about the turnout,” Williams said. “We had just about 100 people show up throughout the two-hour time period that we had set designated. We had people that loved their country, love their president and supportive of their First Amendment rights.”

Williams said protesters carried American and Make America Great Again flags and were joined by students from River Ridge and other high schools in the county.

“They wanted to exercise their First Amendment rights,” he said. “They were very supportive and thought it was ridiculous, again, that the teacher was kicking students out of the classroom.

Williams said Orletsky removed the students from class instead of only asking them to turn the shirts inside out, as had been reported.

Protestors were not allowed on the school’s campus and instead protested on government right of way. Williams’ campaign also rented a bus to ferry protestors to a nearby park to deal with parking concerns. 

Williams said there were a few cars that jeered protestors as they drove by and a counter-protestor did have words with some of Williams’ protestors.

Orletsky told the Atlanta Journal Constitution two weeks ago she feared the slogan would intimidate minority students after a white supremacist rally that left one dead in Charlottesville, Va., and said the phrase has been taken over by white supremacists like the swastika was in Nazi Germany.

“I told the boys, in light of everything that has happened, I don’t think this is an appropriate slogan to be wearing at school. Could they please go to the restroom and turn the shirt inside out?” she said.

A video of the incident between Orletsky and the students has gone viral and has been heavily discussed throughout social media.

Williams previously denounced the Charlottesville Rally. 

There was controversy in the days leading to the protest after Cherokee County Schools released a statement saying the protest had been planned without talking with the system’s superintendent, could not guarantee it would be a peaceful protest and asked the protest to move to an educational service facility in Canton. 

“None of us knows what could have happened today had we not made clear our plans to maintain a safe and secure learning environment for our students and staff,” said Barbara Jacoby, chief communications officer for the school system, in a message to parents on Wednesday. “We’ve all seen how protests advertised as peaceful have gotten out of control, and we are unwilling to take such a risk with our students’ and our employees’ safety.” 

Jacoby said the school was placed in a “Code Yellow,” which means a “situation presents no immediate danger to students, staff or others, but there is a situation in the immediate vicinity of a school, as advised by law enforcement or the Office of School Operations.” 

The designation meant all outside activities were discontinued and exterior doors were locked. 

Williams said earlier in the week he would cancel the protest if Orletsky was fired. 

In the letter to parents, Jacoby said Orletsky was going through the system’s due process and wouldn’t be hurried by outside pressure. 

“As we have repeatedly stated publicly, we do not agree with the teacher’s actions, and we support our students’ Constitutional right to express political opinions,” Jacoby said. “The Superintendent has authorized an administrative investigation, which is ongoing. 

“We don’t rush administrative investigations or violate employees’ due process and lead taxpayers into costly litigation in order to please a politician or special interest group.”

Williams disagreed with the school system’s response.

“It was a shame the way that the school system was basically just scaring the teachers, the students, the parents, saying we were going to come out there, we were going to bring Antifa, there were going to be riots, there was fear the school was going to be burned down,” he said. 

Williams said asking the students to remove the shirts was an act against conservatives, who he said needed to stand up for their rights. 

“It is time that we as conservatives put our values into action and we have got to start making our voice heard louder and louder because if we don’t, stories like this are going to continue to happen,” Williams said. “If Cherokee County, which is one of the most conservative places in the country, is having this happen, it is beyond time we start fighting for our rights.