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IFI, educators debate 'Back to School' guidelines
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times by M.C. Clark

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On Aug. 9, the conservative nonprofit organization the Illinois Family Institute (IFI) released a "Back To School: Parents Take Notice" series of publicat ions. The series states that public schools "are becoming institutions where liberal and even radical social agendas are implemented, designed to undermine the truths we teach our children at home and church."

The controversial series received widespread attention when one of the publications, instructing parents on how to identity teachers who are supportive of LGBT youth, was accidentally released a day early (Aug. 8).

Illinois high school math teacher Hemant Mehta then blogged about "Back to School." Mehta had his critique of the original publication posted on a blog he contributes to, Friendly Atheist, as well as on . The Huffington Post then reported on it, citing text from both pieces.

Mehta told Windy City Times he has had a history with the IFI ever since he attended and wrote about one of its town-hall meetings on what to look out for at public high schools.

"The way you let people know there's something wrong with what they're saying is to call them out for it," he said. He said speaking out is the least of what people can do.

Laurie Higgins—the cultural analyst and school-issues advisor for the IFI who authored the series and previously worked in a public school—then criticized Mehta in a piece on the IFI website entitled "The Friendly Atheist Mocks IFI's Back-to-School Suggestions." Mehta, in return, authored a piece on his Friendly Atheist blog entitled "The Illinois Family Institute is Upset That People Are Mocking Them."

As reported in the Huffington Post, the Southern Poverty Law Center considers the Illinois Family Institute a hate group, which Higgins states in her response piece is a "canard."

"Do I think homosexuality is immoral? Yes. But that doesn't mean I hate homosexual people in their totality," she told Windy City Times.

Among other things, the "Back to School" series suggests keeping children at home during events such as the Day of Silence or Transgender Remembrance Day. It also recommends requesting classroom reassignments from teachers who make "their moral or political beliefs known in the classroom," by displaying safe space stickers or rainbow flags.

On Aug. 10, Shannon Sullivan, executive director of the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, released a statement saying, "Respect and equal opportunity are values held by nearly everyone except for the Illinois Family Institute, whose latest publication calls for parents to remove their children from classrooms where teachers address bullying or believe that diversity is good for development."

Sullivan added, "The Illinois Safe Schools Alliance calls on all organizations to follow the lead and reflect what parents in Illinois want for their children, which is to be safe and respected in schools."

In May, anti-bullying legislation failed to pass the state Senate. The intended amendment to current anti-bullying laws made no specific mention of LGBT youth yet was opposed by the IFI.

Mehta said he hopes the IFI's publication series does not scare educators.

"It's okay to let gay students know they're in a safe space in their classroom. There's nothing wrong with that," he said.

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