ESTILL COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — Messages of love, hate, and even violence have flooded social media in a controversy surrounding this photo:
West Irvine Intermediate School music teacher Tyler Clay Morgan confirmed he wrote it, and on Monday, he resigned from his teaching job.
Estill County Superintendent Jeff Saylor said he does not take issue with the written message, but he does take issue with the conversations that took place during class, saying they went "far beyond the music curriculum."
While we don't know the specifics of the conversations between students and Mr. Morgan in the classroom, we do know they, along with Morgan's board message, have spurred both hate and love surrounding Morgan on social media.
"It's not okay," former West Irvine student, Henry Sparks, said. "Like this is not okay."
Henry Sparks is one of the many people speaking out in support of Morgan. He said he was first called a homophobic slur in 5th grade and that if he had a teacher like Mr. Morgan, it would have been life-changing.
"He was literally trying to make a safe atmosphere for these kids to be themselves and learn, which is something I was not able to do," Sparks said. "I did not have a safe space to learn."
2022 Kentucky teacher of the year Willie Carver is also openly gay and from Eastern Kentucky. He said every student deserves to feel safe and secure and to be able to learn, that's required, according to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.
"LGBTQ people have just as much a place to exist as every other people, and are we are not bad for existing and shouldn't be treated as such," Carver said. "Classrooms should be affirming places for everyone."
Carver also noted that a lot of work needs to be done in classrooms to ensure all students feel safe.
"I think we need to acknowledge that there is an elephant in the room that there is a lot of homophobia and transphobia not just in KY but nationwide and that we have no real means of addressing it publicly, especially in education because of the complexities of these conversations," he said.
Both Sparks and Carver are members of a private Facebook group called "Estill Countians for Equality," which now has 185 total members. It was created in the midst of the controversy surrounding Morgan and acts as a safe space to express support.
LEX18 also spoke with a West Irvine parent who didn't want to go on camera but said in a Facebook message, in part, "I appreciate Mr. Morgan for providing a safe place in Estill County for ANY student to be themselves".
Meanwhile, there are others who believe Mr. Morgan's message and any related conversations were inappropriate for the classroom.
None of those people who we reached out to wanted to go on camera, but one relative of a West Irvine student wrote in a message to us on Facebook that "this should not be discussed in a grade school this should be something that's discussed higher up in a grid level and by professional."
A concerned Kentucky parent said in a Facebook message, "I feel like those sort of things should be left up to professionals with more education and experience in dealing with those types of issues and concerns such as therapists, guidance counselors, etc."
Other messages on social media have been more aggressive and included threats of violence.
Again, the specifics of what was said in the classroom are unknown.
Morgan has said he is not yet ready to speak with us but will be ready to do so soon. Superintendent Saylor said he would not be making any additional comments when we asked him for clarification on the content of the conversations. His full statement can be found here.
For those Kentucky children who may be part of the LGBTQ community, the Kentucky teacher of the year has a message for them: "Don't be discouraged. I'm the teacher of the year in the state of Kentucky and I'm as gay as anything can be so anybody can become anything in your future."