O’Fallon school board member gets calls to resign after calling book “social indoctrination”

O’FALLON, Ill. — A school board member has received calls to resign after calling for a children’s book on social activism “social indoctrination.”

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

After a school board member here questioned the use of a book about a girl learning about social activism in a children’s program at the local library, dozens of parents, teachers and students showed up at a school board meeting Tuesday night to urge him to step down.

But the board member, Steve Springer, said he has no intention of stepping down. He said his concerns about the book and the library program that featured it have been misconstrued.

At the meeting at Fulton Jr. High School, speakers questioned why Springer would oppose an educational event that focused on a book that teaches children about civil rights, community service and making a difference in the world.

The book in question, “Justice Makes a Difference: The Story of Miss Freedom Fighter, Esquire,” was featured in a program March 24 at the O’Fallon Public Library for children age 5 and older. The book follows a young girl named Justice who learns about historic figures like Charles Hamilton Houston, Paul Robeson, and Ida B. Wells in a conversation with her grandma.

Statewide LGBTQ rights group Equality Illinois issued an open letter to the O’Fallon District 90 Board of Education calling for Springer’s resignation:

Dear President Wagnon and members of the O’Fallon District 90 Board of Education:

I write to you on behalf of Equality Illinois, the state’s civil rights organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Illinoisans, and our almost 1,200 pro-equality stakeholders in O’Fallon and surrounding communities. We are dismayed by the comments made by Steve Springer, a member of the O’Fallon District 90 School Board, regarding African-American, transgender, and Muslim students. Having demonstrated through his public comments and emails that he has a fundamental lack of knowledge about the Illinois laws that ensure the equal treatment of all public school students and a personal bias against certain groups of students, Mr. Springer must resign, and the school board should pass a resolution demanding his departure.

We understand that school board members bring with them a diversity of backgrounds and experiences that inform their leadership. However, that does not absolve them from both following the law and keeping an open mind when it comes to how others, especially young people, with different life experiences should be respected and treated.

The laws of the State of Illinois strive to create an affirming and respectful environment for all students, including those from historically marginalized communities. These laws, which have been adopted with bipartisan support, reflect the values of the Land of Lincoln that all students should be treated with dignity, should be affirmed, and should have the freedom to learn and grow without burden or hostility.

In terms of the statutes and regulations that ensure equal treatment and dignity in schools, we offer this guidance from the Illinois Association of School Boards (https://www.iasb.com/law/transgender.cfm#a):

The Illinois School Code requires public schools to provide all students with equal opportunities in all education programs and services. 105 ILCS 5/10-20.12; 23 Ill.Admin.Code §1.240(a). Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) regulations further state that “no school system may exclude or segregate any pupil, or discriminate against any pupil on the basis of his or her race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, or physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, pregnancy [775 ILCS 5/1-102(A)], gender identity, or status of being homeless [105 ILCS 45/1-5 and 42 USC 11434a(2)].” 23 Ill.Admin.Code §1.240(b).

The Illinois Human Rights Act (IHRA) prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation, including schools, based on sex and sexual orientation. 775 ILCS 5/1-102(A), 5/5-101(11). The IHRA defines sexual orientation as the “actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or gender-related identity whether or not traditionally associated with the person’s designated sex at birth.” 775 ILCS 5/1-103(O-1).

Unfortunately, the values of equal treatment and opportunity embodied in these laws are still not accessible to many students. In Illinois schools, LGBTQ students continue to endure harassment, stigmatization, and bullying. Only 27% of LGBTQ students in Illinois hear anything positive about LGBTQ people in classrooms. According to the 2015 US Trans Survey, 80% of transgender students in Illinois who were out or perceived as transgender at some point between grades K–12 experienced some form of mistreatment. This includes being verbally harassed, prohibited from dressing according to their gender identity, disciplined more harshly, or physically or sexually assaulted because people thought they were transgender.

Alarmingly, nearly one-third of all Illinois youth will hear a homophobic or transphobic comment from a staff member in schools. Mr. Springer’s comments contribute to that negative climate and do not support the hard work of creating affirming and respectful environments for students. While we have made a lot of progress in Illinois, we still have a lot of work to do.

By denying the teaching of social justice, refusing to accommodate a transgender student, and describing the religious needs of Islamic students in pejorative terms, Mr. Springer has made himself unsuitable to continue his position on the O’Fallon School Board. These intolerant, transphobic, and Islamophobic points of view have no place in public office. School boards should create environments that affirm each and every student.

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