Central Illinois school district says students discussing orientation is ‘disruptive’

GERMANTOWN HILLS — A principal in this Central Illinois school district sent a letter to parents “alerting” them that students discussing their orientation was “disruptive.”

WMBD/WYZZ-TV in Peoria reported on the letter on Friday.

From the stations’ website at CentralIllinoisProud.com:

A letter signed by Principal Kate Williams, grades 5-8, reads ” This year, we have several students who are openly discussing their sexual identity in classrooms, lunch times, recess and the hallways.”

She goes on to say while students have the right to attend school free of harassment, they do not have the right to dictate when and where they will discuss their sexual orientation or identity.

She writes students who do want to talk about this topic should alert leaders and they will set up a time the student can speak with a trusted adult.

Williams brought up a situation she says occurred on Wednesday in which a student distributed rainbow heart stickers to others and prompted a disruptive discussion.

Counselors were set to meet Thursday to develop a comprehensive plan on how to deal with issues that include educating students on “tolerance and the appropriateness or inappropriateness of discussing one’s sexual identity in the school setting.”

Williams said there will be a town hall for parents to give their opinions, the TV station reported.

LGBTQ community organization Peoria Proud reacted to the letter on their Facebook page, saying the school administration was harrassing the student.

The board of directors of Peoria Proud issued this statement:

It has been brought to the attention of the Peoria Proud Board of Directors, of the unwarranted targeting of LGBTQ middle school students of the Germantown School District #69 by the District’s Administration.

It has been reported by local news sources that a group of middle school students in the district have been prevented from sharing rainbow stickers with their classmates to promote acceptance of LGBTQ people. Superintendent Dan Mair has deemed talk about sexual orientation to be a significant disruption, to the school environment. The Peoria Proud Board of Directors wants to be very clear, that romantic attraction and sexuality are an active part of a child’s development in middle school, and conversation between students about their schoolyard crushes did not rise to the level of calling a town hall until LGBTQ students felt they should be able to talk about their crushes in a safe supportive environment.

We commend these young students for speaking out about bullying and acceptance, and question the administration’s commitment to the safety and well-being of the students when the students feel it falls on them to make their school safer. By forbidding conversation about sexual orientation, the Germantown School District #69 Administration further stigmatizes their LGBTQ students. We encourage Superintendent Dan Mair to reconsider putting these students through the trauma of the town hall meeting he has called about restricting their freedom of speech and expression. We call on him to follow the lead of Peoria Public Schools #150, and utilize the FLASH evidence-based reproductive health curriculum and community resources such as the HULT Health Center, to support students in their understanding of who they are, how their body works, and how to have healthy relationships. As of now Superintendent Dan Mair is failing his students in their social-emotional development and violating their constitutional rights.

Tinker v. Des Moines – “First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

West Virginia v. Barnette – “The Fourteenth Amendment, as now applied to the States, protects the citizen against the State itself and all of its creatures — Boards of Education not excepted. These have, of course, important, delicate, and highly discretionary functions, but none that they may not perform within the limits of the Bill of Rights. That they are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes.”

We will report on when the town hall will be once it is announced.

EDIT: This post has been updated with the latest statement from Peoria Proud.

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