Meeting held after CPS principal retires following controversy over career day speaker

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CHICAGO -- A principal at a Chicago Public School abruptly retired after inviting a controversial activist to speak at the school’s career day.

Mary Beth Cunat retired one year into a four-year deal after some parents complained about her inviting Ethan Ethos for career day at Wildwood Elementary School.

Some parents claimed Ethos used some threatening language toward police on his social media pages.  Once some parents found out about it, some were not pleased. A local blog quoted a letter from the principal to parents in which she said she had hoped the speaker would share with the students his experience of becoming civically active.

Some who live in the community think the principal was unfairly targeted.

“What I think people need to understand is this principal was pressured out. Her resignation was forced by powerful forces in the community who will not tolerate any criticism of police,” Michael Rabbit, a neighborhood resident, said. “Social media makes it very clear that officers have been very outspoken. The concern is that they will not tolerate truth telling in our schools whether that truth telling involves police violence, torture, cover-ups, corruption or code of silence.”

A meeting was held at the school Tuesday evening regarding the incident. People on both sides of the issue remained calm and respectful but defended their side.

One supporter said while she wasn’t forced out by the district, the former principal didn’t want to leave.

“She started receiving personal threats. When the threats became personal she had no choice but to resign,” the woman said.

Cunat was a principal at the school for eight years.

Ethos was invited to the school to speak to sixth through eighth grade students about becoming civically minded, but parents say he veered off topic and used threatening language about police.

A number of Chicago police officers and their families call the Wildwood neighborhood their home.

“And when the gentleman goes off course and starts bashing, I don’t care who it is. Yes, my husband is a police man, but I don’t care who you’re bashing. You should not bash anyone in front of children,” one parent said.

In a letter to parents, Cunat said she reminded Ethos to stay on topic. Not long after, Fraternal Order of Police vice president Martin Prieb spoke to the students. He met former Principal Cunat and said she just made a mistake vetting the speaker.

“I’m really torn. I’m very offended this guy was here but I really don’t want this woman to lose her job,” Prieb said.

While the meeting may not have changed anyone’s mind, some members of the school council believed the children learned a lesson.

“I felt it was a very positive experience and maybe the students are better at this than some of us in the community and parents,” Sandra Laase, a school council member, said.

An interim principal has been selected. The district is looking for a permanent replacement.


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