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U-46 Board debates select changes to policy


  This is the first of two stories addressing proposed changes to the U-46 Policy 5. There are changes proposed to 51 sections, two of which were debated. This story addresses Code 5.020.
By Seth Hancock
  School District U-46 officials left things uncertain on whether staff could face punishment for recognizing biological facts under proposed changes to its policy under Section 5 concerning personnel.
  The changes were discussed at the Board of Education meeting on Monday, Jan. 14 with a vote expected on Monday, Feb. 4.
  One of the hotly debated changes came under Code 5.020 (workplace anti-harassment policy) which Luis Rodriguez, assistant attorney, said “adds language to make protected class verbiage among the board’s policies consistent.” The changes would add protected classes including “gender, gender identification, order of protection status, unfavorable military discharge.”
  Board member Jeanette Ward said she was concerned that the addition of “gender identity” could lead to forcing “compelled speech” for teachers and a violation of their Constitutional rights to free speech.
  Currently there are several cases in the country that pertain to similar scenarios including at West Point High School in Virginia, Chasco Middle School in Florida and Shawnee State University in Ohio.
  Ward referenced a Supreme Court decision from Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education and suggested adding language to clearly define harassment as verbal or physical conduct that is “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive.” Ward noted the court’s decision pertained to peer-on-peer harassment but the “concept still applies to teachers.”
  “It could be construed to mean that a teacher who refuses to refer to another teacher by the sex they are not is harassing them,” Ward said of the proposed change.
  Ward asked: “So does ‘unwelcome, verbal conduct of a sexual nature’ then include using grammatically-correct pronouns to refer to a colleague who assumes the identity of someone of the opposite sex? To be clear, I’m asking if district employees are required to use the grammatically-incorrect pronouns when referring to colleagues who assume an opposite-sex persona even if such pronouns deny reality and/or their religious convictions about lying and/or the meaning of biological sex?”
  Miguel Rodriguez, chief legal officer, would not answer the question directly saying it’s “on a case by case basis,” and he called the changes “consistent with state law and with federal law.”
  Board member Veronica Noland said “I have to comment because I can’t not comment” and she has to “go on record like I always do that Ms. Ward’s comments are” offensive. She said she had to “go on the record” several times and that she’s “getting tired of” hearing views she doesn’t agree with.
  Noland said Ward was “filled with opinion,” uses “unaccepted terms” and “I just have to reject it.”
  “This is I believe a political opinion and one that is wasting our time at this point,” Noland said. “I’m getting tired, as many people are, of this constantly attacking these protections of our students.”
  “So, once a person is hired, it’s our responsibility to provide a workplace that is free of harassment,” said board member Melissa Owens who also accused Ward of wanting to eliminate human rights. “That’s out responsibility. That’s by law.”
  Although the administration would not answer Ward’s questions, Owens said the policy wouldn’t force “compelled speech” and said a teacher can use a colleagues name rather than a pronoun.
  “This is treating somebody as a basic, on a basic humanity level, right…. I would expect people to treat other people with dignity and respect,” Owens said.
  “I’m not suggesting that we not treat individuals with dignity and respect,” Ward responded. “I’m suggesting that we protect the rights of the First Amendment. I don’t mind referring to someone by their name. That’s perfectly fine, and I certainly advocate for treating all human beings with dignity and respect.”
  Ward said the suggested additional language “provides some protection for teachers who don’t want to be forced to use pronouns that don’t agree with what they know to be true in reality.”
  “Nothing in here is forcing anybody to use a pronoun,” Owens claimed, but Ward replied: “I’m saying it could be construed to do that.”
  Donna Smith, the board’s president, said: “But I think… we are going to look at every discipline on an individual basis and that’s what we do now.”
  Miguel Rodriguez, apparently misrepresenting Ward’s position, said that “it would be legally indefensible… to discriminate against a transgender employee who has undergone let’s say the whole process and everything.” He added: “The First Amendment is placed at a very limited capacity or it is diminished when you’re in the work place.”
  Ward said: “I’m not suggesting we don’t follow our policies. I’m not suggesting we don’t treat humans with dignity and respect. I’m suggesting we add the language ‘severe, pervasive and objectively offensive’ so that it’s clear what delineates an infraction.”
  “That would be in my opinion incorrect” and “has nothing to do with the policy here,” Miguel Rodriguez said.
  Board member John Devereux called Ward’s suggested language “an incredibly high hurdle and it would be a blanket across all of these protected classes.”
  Prior to the board’s discussion, Hanover Park resident Ina Silva-Sobolewski addressed the issue during public comments. She referenced the Illinois Professional Teaching Standards and listed all the tasks expected of teachers.
  “Besides the tasks listed above according to the policy… [is it] expected that teachers take on knowledge of the supposed 63-plus genders out there and attend to the personal needs of other teachers as well?” Silva-Sobolewski asked.
  Silva-Sobolewski said: “Gender along with the notions of gender identity and gender expression are socially constructed categories that were created in the fevered imaginations of gender studies activists. There is no basis for them whatsoever in the fields of genetics and neuroscience. It does not mean we do not have compassion for people who have cognitive dissonance with their biology, but our education must not succumb to the pressures of the latest fad in political correctness.”

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