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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Community rallies around former Catholic teacher
Extended for the online edition of Windy City Times
by David Thill
2017-06-27

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Community members rallied June 24 to demand change at a local Catholic high school where a former teacher says he was fired after students outed and harassed him.

Amidst chanting and picketing, including signs with messages such as "Make Ignatius Jesuit Again," roughly 30 alumni, friends, community organizers and a former administrator gathered near Saint Ignatius College Prep to support Matt Tedeschi.

Tedeschi—who taught religion and French at the West Side school until March—believes his termination stemmed from issues that began last year, when a student found his online dating profile, which said that he is interested in men. He claims the student then revealed his sexual orientation to peers, and the students harassed him in the classroom and on social media. Tedeschi's story was first reported in May by DNAinfo.

According to Tedeschi, the administration did little more than issue a "slap on the wrist" to the students, who continued to harass him into this year. He continued teaching until this spring, when a separate incident occurred in his class. In that incident, a student shared sensitive information during a class discussion—which Tedeschi said he promptly reported to the administration—ultimately leading to Tedeschi's termination. But, he said at the rally, he later discovered that the administration had been considering terminating his employment since last year's incident.

Joined by Chris Pett, incoming national president of DignityUSA; Damian Richardson, a 2016 St. Ignatius alumnus; and Colin Collette, a former music director at Inverness-based Holy Family Parish, from which Collette was fired in 2014 when he announced his engagement to his same-sex partner, Tedeschi called for six changes to St. Ignatius' policies.

First of all, Tedeschi wants the school administration to change its nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Next, he wants the administration to allow the LGBT student organization to post flyers in the school and make online announcements, similar to other student organizations. As of now, he said, the group is not allowed to do either of those things.

His other demands include a "fair panel to decide cases of faculty dismissals"; an impartial ombudsman who is present at meetings involving employee discipline or termination; the ability for teachers to "have more say in drafting, implementing, and evaluating the school policies that affect them"; and the opportunity for St. Ignatius teachers to form a labor union.

Tedeschi said that, including himself, three St. Ignatius teachers were fired this semester, and one was fired last year. He called this group the "Disappeared"—teachers who have been fired by the administration for unclear reasons, under a "cloak of secrecy."

When he was fired, Tedeschi said, he was told he "showed poor judgment" in his handling of class discussion, and that he had "undermined authority." When he asked for an example of how he had undermined authority, though, the administration told him they didn't have to give examples, he said.

Tedeschi said this lack of transparency in disciplinary practices makes teachers "far more afraid" to do their jobs because they don't know what the administration will use against them to discipline them. He said the practices are bad for young Catholics because it makes them "not want to be part of the Church." And he said the practices are bad for parents and alumni, "who wonder what values the administration is instilling" in its students.

He added that St. Ignatius is failing to live up to its Jesuit mission of social justice. For example, the Day of Silence, organized by GLSEN each year to address anti-LGBT bullying in schools throughout the world, has become simply a general anti-bullying day at St. Ignatius, he said. The administration's failure to directly address anti-LGBT bullying through the Day of Silence silences the students that the day is meant to serve, he added.

[Addendum: After this piece ran in print, St. Ignatius Director of Development Ryan Bergin emailed Windy City Times, "We are able to say unequivocally that Mr. Tedeschi was not fired because of sexual orientation," adding, "At this time, Saint Ignatius does not have an official LGBT group however the school does run Project Unity, which is a group for students dedicated to expressing an open understanding of all people, regardless of identity."]

Richardson, the alumnus, said that St. Ignatius has changed from when he was a student, and that it must commit itself to its core mission values of students being "committed to doing justice" and "open to growth."

Calling the fight "a struggle for the soul of St. Ignatius," Tedeschi told attendees to contact the school administration and urge it to change its policies. ( The event program listed several administration members' contact information. )

Tedeschi ended by leading the group of protesters to the sidewalk in front of St. Ignatius, where they continued to chant as cars passed, several honking in support of the group.

St. Ignatius administrators "need to put forth a good faith effort [to show] that they're hearing us," Tedeschi told Windy City Times. Instead, he said, the administration is silent.


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