A substitute teacher at a Utah public school asked students in a fifth-grade class what they were thankful for before they left for Thanksgiving break.
When one of the students answered that he was “thankful for finally being adopted by my two dads,” the teacher retorted that “homosexuality is wrong,” one of the boy’s parents said in a video that has gotten widespread attention on social media. The teacher then told the student that it was sinful for two men to live together, the father said.
The substitute teacher was fired soon after, according to the staffing company that had placed the woman at the school, Deerfield Elementary in Cedar Hills, Utah.
The father, Louis van Amstel, who is known for his role on “Dancing With the Stars,” wrote on Twitter and Facebook that his son, Daniel, 11, had been bullied by the teacher.
“It shouldn’t matter if you’re gay, straight, bisexual, black and white,” van Amstel said in an interview Sunday. “If you’re adopting a child and if that child goes to a public school, that teacher should not share her opinion about what she thinks we do in our private life.”
Van Amstel, 47, credited three girls in the class with alerting the principal about the teacher’s actions and with speaking up on behalf of his son, who he said did not want the teacher to get in trouble.
“The woman, even when the principal said, ‘Well, you’re fired,’ and escorted her out the door, tried to blame Daniel for what she said,’ “ van Amstel said.
The episode happened Nov. 21 in the Alpine School District, which is one of the largest in Utah and serves about 80,000 students in several communities south of Salt Lake City.
The district’s spokesman, David Stephenson, said in an e-mail that “the school took appropriate action that day based upon their investigation,” but referred questions on the substitute teacher to Kelly Services, the staffing company used by the district. The district did not identify the teacher.
Kelly Services said in a statement Sunday that the substitute teacher was no longer employed by the company.
“We are concerned about any reports of inappropriate conduct and take these matters very seriously,” the statement said. “We conducted an investigation and made the decision to end the employee’s relationship with Kelly Services.”
The company did not respond to questions about how long the substitute teacher had been placed in the school district or the vetting process it used for school instructors.
Van Amstel said he was proud of how swiftly and decisively the school had handled the situation but was troubled about the vetting of the teacher and about how she had tried to impose her personal beliefs on a group of children.
Van Amstel, an Amsterdam-born choreographer, former dance champion and creator of the dance fitness program LaBlast, said his neighbors in Utah had rallied around his family. He said some online commenters had jumped to unfair conclusions about what he described as a politically and socially conservative state.
“It doesn’t mean that all of Utah is now bad,” he said. “This is one person.”
The episode came just a few weeks after the Trump administration proposed a rule change that would roll back Obama-era discrimination protections that were based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families have said that the reversal could allow foster care and adoption agencies to deny their services to LGBTQ families on faith-based grounds.
In 2017, van Amstel wed Joshua Lancaster at the Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah, posting a photo of their marriage license on Instagram. He said his spouse took his surname so they and their children would have the same one.
The couple started the adoption process in 2018 and met Daniel for the first time in March after seeing his photograph online, van Amstel said. Daniel’s placement with his would-be parents came on Father’s Day, according to van Amstel, who said the adoption would become final this month.
“This boy since we met him feels like our son,” van Amstel said. “Right now, it feels like I made him.”