D65 employees, parents and alumni demand protection for LGBTQ staff


Sneha Dey/Daily Senior Staffer

D65 community members at the board meeting. Employees, parents and alumni dressed pink, blue and white tie-dye and carried transgender flags.

Sneha Dey, Web Editor

For three years, Park School special education teacher Ren Heckathorne has faced continuous abuse and harassment over their gender identity. About 35 community members called for a policy change to better protect LGBTQ+ staff members at the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 board meeting Monday.

“I can’t help but wonder if you really care about me and how I feel,” Heckathorne said at the meeting. “It is truly terrifying to be emotionally vulnerable in a space that has never protected me…a space that has allowed me to get hurt time and time again…a space that has suggested that maybe I am the one people need to be protected from.”

Transgender flags in hand, community members said the current staff policy fails to include LGBTQ+ staff members. D65 educator Jessica Manning recommended the district hire an independent consultant and that all staff undergo adequate training.

“There is no way to ensure appropriate action has been taken to prevent such incidents from occurring again,” said Manning.

She said the request is in direct alignment with the district equity statement which “recognizes that excellence requires a commitment to equity and to identifying and addressing practices, policies, and institutional barriers.”

Heckathorne filed their first formal grievance in February 2017. A D65 employee had been making hateful comments on a daily basis for months, Heckathorne said.

The grievance said the employee had students pray for Heckathorne’s salvation and refused to use the correct pronouns. In a meeting with an administrator, the employee used slurs toward Heckathorne and refused to acknowledge “they/them” as Heckathorne’s pronouns. The grievance was determined by human resources after an investigation as unfounded.

A second formal grievance was filed by Heckathorne on April 1. The complaint cited a breach of confidentiality by a district administration. The admin’s colleagues reported details of the case had been shared, including the name of the teacher.

Teachers emailed school administrators, district administrators and the union about feeling unsafe at work because of Heckathorne’s gender identity. Heckathorne was not included in the emails.

Last week, all D65 employees received an email from the human resources department, reminding them to support LGBTQ+ identifying staff members to comply with board policies.

“Truthfully, I felt that that the email was condescending and missed the mark,” D65 employee Lisa Levine said in a statement at the meeting. “Just as I strongly believe our kids of color need to see teachers and figures of authority that look like them, I believe that our LGBTQ youth should be able to see themselves reflected in who they interact with at school.”

After participating in a training last week facilitated to learn to support LGBTQ staff, Levine, who is raising a gender-fluid child, said she did not feel the training was effective in fulfilling its purpose. She emphasized the need to support teachers like Heckathorne in an effort to create an inclusive community.

“I am done holding this district’s hand as they fumble and fall and refuse to do what is right,” said Heckathorne. “I will no longer accept that this is the best you can do.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @snehadey_