Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing, but it seems that District 205 of Elmhurst, Illinois, is lacking a bit of intellectual consistency. If they are going to state that they support civil discourse on controversial topics, then they really ought to live up to their word in all matters, not just when it’s convenient to them. The latest incident that should outrage any American? School officials created a display with the American flag left on the ground, apparently without any notice, or respect for that matter.
An email was sent out to parents, apparently post-hoc, that there would be a controversial “interdisciplinary forum” hoping to “explore the complexities of the constitutionally protected right of free speech”, writes Erin DeLuga of York High School.
The United States flag was left on the ground in the library and although the e-mail states that it was for purely academic purposes, many of the students didn’t even know this was happening until after it had already happened. Controversy in education can be a wonderful tool. If used properly it can help ensure that students think for themselves and help them foster their own beliefs system. However, doing something like this, and hiding behind the guise of “doing it for the student’s education” is purely reprehensible. If anything, there should have been a discussion that allowed parents to address concerns they had, and also legitimately include the students in the activity, rather than use them as a scapegoat. Despite the fact that students collected the flag and gave it over so it would be properly retired by a member of the American Legion, the lack of reciprocity regarding free speech is utterly unacceptable.
Following this, the superintendent sent an e-mail stating that because of “some strong parent reaction” regarding a totally different subject they were cancelling a meeting with parents. On one hand, the district is all about controversial displays of the first amendment, but when it comes to talking with parents about class sizes, that’s too much. This is the leadership we have in place to teach America’s youth.
This rightfully upset Mr. Daniel Jallits, a Marine Corps veteran, longtime Elmhurst resident, and Grunt Style employee, who wrote a reply to the school district, stating that “You can’t just pick and choose when Freedom of Speech should be invoked.” And he’s one hundred percent correct. It’s one thing to protest and it’s another thing entirely to just do things to prove you can get away with them. If our rights are actually our rights, they need to be respected going both ways. High school should consistently teach basic critical thinking skills. How much more basic can you get than being consistent in your views?
Denying parents the opportunity to discuss student to teacher ratios because you’re no longer comfortable with them disagreeing sets a bad and dangerous precedent. Nobody is saying that District 205 and Superintendent David Moyer are malicious, but the way they have gone about addressing these issues, is completely suspect. Superintendent Moyer stated, “In lieu of Monday’s meeting, information on how the process will unfold will be sent by your principal…in a separate email.”
The outrage of Mr. Jallits is righteous indeed, when he as a parent has to deal with a school district and Superintendent that believes they can do whatever they please, whenever they please and as long as they send an email, they’re covered.
“District 205 is a-ok in accepting state and federal funding, and trashing our flag for no other reason than they can [and] after seeing this display, I accepted my company’s relocation offer to Texas. I’m pulling my kids out of District 205,” said Jallits. He also concluded that “maybe the District should return any federal dollars they received this year [and that parents should] consider homeschooling or private school education.”
Maybe the loss of many of the tax dollars from parents who are dissatisfied with the clarity of the school district will change the way things are done. Maybe being called out by an esteemed member of the community will change the standard operating procedure of District 205. Either way, we hope that change comes rapidly when it comes to the way our educators are ‘teaching’ our youth because they are more and more out of line with our American traditions and values.
UPDATE September 28, 2017. The School sent this email to parents:
On Tuesday September 26, York Community High School’s entire sophomore class explored First Amendment rights as part of a day-long, interdisciplinary forum that centered on banned books, music, social media and the American flag. Examples were chosen based on their relevance to teenagers.
One First Amendment case involved re-creating a 1989 installation by Chicago artist Dread Scott, who was later part of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision protecting the right to free speech. Unlike the Scott example, York’s display was created to ensure the flag was not stepped on or defaced in any way. The goal was to create an authentic learning environment, and we are continuing to learn from this experience.
We ask our students to think critically about issues relevant to them and our society. At the same time, we understand that this demonstration caused some angst in the larger community and for that we deeply apologize.
York Principal Erin DeLuga shared the following information with families yesterday:
Yesterday afternoon and throughout the day today, York administrators have met with students to provide them with an opportunity to express their perspectives. Through these conversations, feedback has been gathered on how the administration and staff can ensure that all students’ voices are represented through productive and respectful discourse going forward.
Our staff and students will learn from this week’s lesson, and we will make changes to this forum in the future to ensure we do not disrespect our flag.
Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 | 162 S York | Elmhurst, Illinois 60126