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Split U-46 vote ratifies conduct code changes

By Seth Hancock
  The Board of Education in School District U-46 voted 5-2 to approve a revised Student Code of Conduct, which has changes to nearly half of the 50-page document, at its meeting on Monday, June 18. Board members Phil Costello and Jeanette Ward voted no.
  The district claimed the need for changes due to staff’s racial bias in discipline practices, which it has yet to provide any evidence to support the that claim, while the document pushed division among groups of students based on race, sexuality and gender identity. John Heiderscheidt, director of school safety and culture, wrote in a memo to the board that the district is seeking equal outcomes over equal enforcement.
  “We are committed to applying school discipline policies and practices in a fair and equitable manner so as not to disproportionately impact students of color, students with disabilities, LGBT students, students with limited English proficiency, or other at-risk students that have been historically marginalized in schools,” Heiderscheidt wrote.
  The district will force the code on parents, regardless of whether they approve of the changes or not, while members of the board’s majority said they wanted to force compelled speech on students while calling Ward a bully for philosophically opposing the document.
  Ward asked prior to the meeting how a parent can opt-out of the code of conduct and the district responded: “There is not currently a way to register without agreeing to the code of conduct. By law or legal precedent, school districts are allowed to pronounce reasonable rules to maintain a safe school environment for students and school staff. Parents and students must agree to such rules. In conclusion, parents must agree to abide by the student code of conduct.”
  For Ward, she noted a few reasons for opposing the document.
  “First, justice should be color-blind,” Ward said. “The punishment should correspond to the offense, regardless of the offender’s color, otherwise chaos will ensue.”
  Ward added: “Second, bullying should be prohibited, period, without the necessity to call out every disparate group of people. Given that gender identity is one group called out for special protection, what happens when a female student who doesn’t want to share a locker room or bathroom with a biological male is accused of bullying because she doesn’t want to share that private space with a boy? Will not using the pronoun preference for a gender dysphoric student be considered bullying?”
  Jackson Teeter, the student advisor to the board, called Ward’s remarks disparaging and suggested students should be forced to use speech they may not agree with.
  “I think not referring to people by their preferred pronoun should be a type of bullying,” Teeter said. “Transgender students have one of the highest suicide rates among different groups of students.”
  “I appreciate your comments and response, but I don’t think it helps the student who is struggling with this issue to help them in their denial of reality,” Ward replied. “And I don’t view that as a form of bullying. I think to join them in what is not real… only hurts them, and by the way, when those gender dysphoric students undergo a change, it doesn’t decrease the suicide rate, in fact it goes up.”
  Ward added: “I don’t think that’s a compassionate thing to do, and I don’t consider it bullying to not join them in a denial of reality.”
  Board member Veronica Noland condemned Ward despite claiming in 2016 that “I don’t judge” relating to a similar discussion when the district changed its bathroom/locker room practices to allow students to use the facility of the opposite sex based on identity rather than biology. She dismissed Ward as being “political" and said it was ok to ignore minority concerns.
  “Using the terms gender dysphoric and making the statements that you make hurt the students of this district,” said Noland who added: "I think it’s an ideology of yours, and it’s a minority in this district, it’s a minority in this country. It goes against our policies that we have voted on. It goes against so many things.”
  Noland offered no evidence that Ward’s opinion is in the minority. When the district changed its bathroom/locker room practices, the vast majority of the public who spoke at meetings were on Ward’s side.
  Noland also referenced the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) as supporting her position. The term “gender dysphoria” has been clinically used by the AAP as well as other medical organizations, such as the American Psychiatric Association.
  Another organization, the American College of Pediatricians, previously issued a statement urging “educators and legislators to reject all policies that condition children to accept as normal a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex. Facts --- not ideology --- determine reality.”
  Board member Melissa Owens said: “If sitting at a table in a position of power and saying that our students don’t live in reality, if that’s not bullying, I don’t know what bullying is to be quite honest with you.”
  Ward responded: “You are twisting my words, and you’re also making it appear that this document is not political. It is by nature political and many of the parents in this district would disagree with this strongly, and you’ve given them no way to opt out.”
  “Where did I twist your words? You said that they’re not living in reality,” Owens said.
  “I said it hurts the students to refer to them to the biological sex that they are not. It hurts them,” Ward replied.
  Costello opposed the document stating his opposition to the divisive nature of the language.
  “When we talk about violence or notable student actions, whether it’s good or bad, I would prefer that they not be gender-based or any other based,” Costello said. “We’re putting them in boxes, and I find that a little bit taking a step backwards as opposed to we’re all created equal.”
  Costello added: “I don’t know that I’d take it as far as [Ward] would, but I think that we should really focus on what they’re producing rather than… their backgrounds. Ethnicity in one case, religious beliefs or whatever, what they’ve accomplished and what their potential is and address that rather than who they are.”
  U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said the code aligns with law and “is appropriate for use in a school district.”
  L. Dean Hufsey, of Elgin, opposed the changes when he spoke during public comments calling it the “epitome of micromanagement.” He asked rhetorically if any of the board members read entirely through the document and he has “more than once” and  there are “grammatical and spelling errors throughout. Generally the document is poorly constructed and needs serious editing and revision.”
  Hufsey said the code should focus on “teacher responsibilities and student responsibilities.”
  “The teacher responsibilities are to maintain orderly classroom behavior and then teach content in basic core subjects,” Hufsey said. “Student responsibilities are simply to behave and learn. It doesn’t take 50 pages of type-written script of which 32 percent is a glossary to explain that.”
  Members of the District U-46 Educational Assistants (DUEA) union, who came to ask for “respect” during current contract negotiations, were upstairs in an overflow room at the meeting and openly laughed and mocked Hufsey as he spoke.






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