Lehi High Chemistry Teacher Let Fear Turn into Bullying Some Students
Learning from this teacher’s mistakes, how can we channel our fear into positive outcomes?
Scrolling through Facebook, a post mentioned chemistry teacher Leah Kinyon’s berating students on the first day of school. I searched through the news and my Facebook feed. Some parents on Facebook understandably called for her to be fired. After school on the first day, Alpine School District put the teacher on administrative leave. In the afternoon, the district announced she was no longer an employee (either fired or resigned).
After watching videos and reading comments, I determined Kinyon acted out of fear. She has let her fear of COVID-19, Trumpism, climate change, and anti-LGBTQIA sentiment turn into secondary anger toward others. Her anger manifested as intimidation, bullying, and name-calling toward some students and their parents for several years. Some parents and students feel fear from her actions too. In a way, Kinyon’s actions and the student’s actions represent how we all react to fear.
How can we address these fears in positive ways?
• Address fear of the pandemic to civil advocacy of your beliefs
• Apply the scientific method to parents’ beliefs
• Understand the fear LGBTQIA and their families face, and the fear on the other side.
• Recognize free will creates the appearance of chaos
• Address abuse with the offender and then authorities kindly and privately
• Strive to love those outside your circle
Coping with the Pandemic
Many of us fear the effects of COVID-19 and government policies, which fear may manifest as anger or despair. For Kinyon, she fears unvaccinated students passing the COVID variants to her and her family. She understands the suffering it has caused and feels frustrated others aren’t doing their part, just as we all feel about our “side”.
In our fear, like Kinyon’s, we sometimes place blame on human “spreaders” for the suffering and death caused by the Covid-19 virus. We hate that we can’t control the virus because it isn’t a flesh and blood enemy to conquer. Instead, we dehumanize anyone not following our rules into the virus to retain our false sense of control. After all, we have some ability to control people. Yet we balk when others resent or defy our control over their free will. We justify banning free will under the banner of “right to life.” We fail to see that suffering or dying from the virus is a natural cause. No human deprived someone of their right to life. Nature did.
We can acknowledge the loss of control, to find what is within our individual control, such as personal hygiene and vaccination. We can share our experiences to encourage others to do the same. For example, Kinyon could be a compassionate advocate for the vaccine. She congratulated one student on the vaccine. Why not encourage, instead of shaming, others to vaccinate too?
Instead of turning to anger or despair, we can turn our fear into action, hope, and courage. Hope that the vaccine offers better protection. Hope that the virus is rarely fatal. Hope that we can adjust and thrive despite a virus. Courage to serve others in time of need. Courage to wear a mask, or not to wear a mask. Courage to maintain and encourage civility.
What positive emotions do you turn your fear into?
Examining Parents Opinions VS Calling for Rebellion
Kinyon drew on teenagers’ desire to question or rebel against what their parents believe. She stated, “My parents were freakin’ dumb!” and that her world opened up after she stopped believing them. She admonished students to follow suit. This statement shows she has partially stayed in a rebellious mindset. Instead, this science teacher could teach students to apply the scientific method, to rigorously examine their parents’ political and scientific beliefs. Then let students form their own conclusions from presented facts, so they may adopt, adapt, or reject their parents’ beliefs. In this way, Kinyon could have promoted healthy independence.
Have you changed your childhood beliefs? Why?
Caring for LGBTQIA Individuals and Others
Bullying and shunning LGBTQIA individuals happen in Utah despite the urging of local and spiritual leaders to love them. According to the 2019 SHARP survey, LGB students experienced about 30% more suicidal ideation than heterosexual students. During my high school years, two classmates expressed their fear negatively that suicide or bestiality was better than being homosexual. Thus, when I felt same-sex attraction as a junior, I panicked. These attitudes, the weaponization of traditional marriage, and a subculture of perfectionism contribute to the LGBTQ suicidal ideation in Utah.
So I get why Kinyon fears for the LGBTQIA students as a Gay-Straight Alliance mentor. She wants to help them feel accepted and loved. However, her fearful approach backfires because she is excluding those who disagree with her (evidenced by “Get out!” in the video). Her inclusive/exclusive approach alienates those who disagree on LGBTQ issues, instead of inviting them to the discussion where persuasion usually happens. Maybe on her better days, she shows kindness to all students when she sets aside politics.
How can we show love for both LGBTQIA individuals and others?
Understand Free Will is Chaotic
Exchanging ideas openly center around free will and persuasion, thus multitudinous viewpoints. The hope is to argue the points kindly, listen to others, adjust positions, and hopefully find solutions fair for everyone. This process appears contentious and chaotic at times when everyone can voice their opinion. Why other countries consider Americans crazy! We will step on each other’s toes. We will offend each other (there is no right to not be offended). What one person does will affect another person. Yet that doesn’t mean someone has always violated another’s free will when it is a natural consequence.
We circumvent the free exchange of ideas when we engage in name-calling, shaming, shunning, or any other method to control another. Because Kinyon fears the influence of Trump and his supporters in the US, she intimidated students with Trumpist views to shut down their speech. This type of attitude on Biden's side or any side of the debate hurts the open exchange of ideas.
Kinyon also allowed her burnout and students’ comments to fester her. Understandably, she expressed her frustration, but in the wrong place and time. She probably needs mental rest, like the rest of us.
What do you do to rejuvenate your mind before a difficult discussion?
Overcome Fear to Report Bullying and Abuse
According to parents and students on my Facebook feed, Leah Kinney has acted similarly for eight years. Comments implied students had reported her behavior before. Maybe she received discipline. If she did, it failed to correct the mistakes. Sadly, it took a video to social media to initiate correction. Eric Moutsos revealed Kinyon’s name, workplace, and appearance, which publicly shamed her whether Moutsos intended to or not. Moutsos could have withheld identifying details and blurred her face in the video to let the content speak for itself.
The victims, or students, in Kinney’s case, feel intimidated because the teacher has power over them. I understand that fear as a student. In fifth grade, Mr. L. told D.S. “Damn you to hell” and threatened to paddle us with “Big Bertha” for disobedience. I circulated a classroom petition for him to stop swearing (really verbal abuse). Mr. L. justified to weepy me that he only used biblical words. I directed my fear into action to rectify a problem. Yet I didn’t know to report the verbal abuse to the principal, or even higher.
In my experience schools create an insular space where others fear to report harassment and bullying because of indifferent administrators. For example, I experienced retaliation when I reported workplace harassment as a school substitute. I privately addressed my concerns to the offender, then the school administration yet all justified her badgering. Days later, I received a notice that the substitute agency banned me from subbing at that school due to my “contentious and unprofessional” behavior. Despite my suicidality upon receiving the news, I engaged that fear to report to the district’s human resources department and the substitute agency’s local representative. HR and the representative concluded I could sub the next year at that school, and they would address the teacher’s behavior confidentially. I discovered the agency’s policy was to ban subs at schools whenever the faculty reported issues. In other words, retaliation against subs is a de facto policy.
Those reporting infractions show courage for their actions because of the potential fallout. Yet it matters how and why they report too. Reporting abuse needs to make an effort to correct — not punish — the offender and support the victim. In our society, some desire to destroy and avenge the offender. Both sides deserve love.
What happened when you blew the whistle? Why did you do it?
Love Your Enemies
Kinyon and most of us easily love those who show loyalty and have similar beliefs. We enjoy it when someone aligns their free will with ours. We may create a “tribe” of loyal friends that eventually excludes others. When someone threatens a friend, we defend our tribe, in turn attacking another tribe. Hurt feelings may fester into enmity. Thus, we need to remove our mental barriers and expand our circle to those with different viewpoints. And to those who hurt us too (within certain boundaries).
About the Creator
Wannabe linguist. Wannabe novelist. Blogger. Poet. Avid reader. Boy mom. Have bipolar 2. Experience bisexual attraction. Love America. Love China. English language BA from BYU.
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