Senn HS teacher removed as district investigates whether student told to 'go back to your country'

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CHICAGO — A teacher at Senn High School who was accused of telling a student to “go back to your country” after she refused to stand for the national anthem at a school assembly has been removed from the school as the district investigates.

Chicago Public Schools said it launched an investigation after four students complained that a teacher made the derogatory comment toward a Hispanic student because she didn’t stand during the anthem. The Senn students allege the teacher made the comment during a Jan. 30 Hispanic heritage assembly.

Block Club Chicago reported that the incident at the assembly involved more than one student. That same teacher was accused of discriminating against a black student who also sat through the anthem, asking if the student received free lunch and saying that people “died for her right to receive the lunch.”

Principal Mary Beck sent families and students a letter Thursday saying the teacher in question has been removed. At the end of the investigation, it will be determined if it is appropriate for the teacher to return, the letter said.

The school district said if the teacher did make such a comment it would be a violation of the district’s anti-discrimination policy.

Beck said as the investigation by the Office of Student Protections and Title IX progressed, “new information came to light” which is when the district decided to remove the teacher.

Students at Senn staged a sit-in Wednesday to protest what they consider the district’s slow response to their complaint. Students sat in the hallways and blocked the school’s entrance, urging school administrators to take action.

On Fridays, students said they think the teacher needs to be fired because what he did was wrong. They also said they finally feel like they are being heard.

Going forward, the school said it will provide more cultural training for staff.

The teacher has been told to stay home but is still being paid.

Read the full statement below:

Dear Senn Parents and Families,

The safety and well-being of your children is always our top priority, and I’m writing to update you on a situation involving a staff member. On January 30, 2020, the day of an assembly, I made the district aware that one of our staff members may have communicated inappropriately with students. While I worked with the district to gather information regarding this allegation, it may have appeared that our students’ voices were not being heard. I want to assure you that this was not the case.

As an investigation by the Office of Student Protections and Title IX (OSP) progressed and new information came to light, the district decided today to remove this individual from working in our school. At the conclusion of OSP’s investigation, a final determination will be made regarding whether it is appropriate for this individual to return to Senn. I will update the school community when a final determination is made.

I know this week has been difficult for our school, and I want you to know that the concerns our students have expressed have been heard. I’m committed to implementing the agreements I made with our students to heal our community. Here are my commitments to the Senn community:

1.       Providing a space for student town hall so staff and administrators can hear from students regularly.

2.       Helping students better understand the process for reporting behavior that does not align with our values as a school.

3.       Creating a designated office where reporting support is offered and students can convene.

4.       Posting more signs and posters that communicate our values and opportunities for student voice.

5.       Providing cultural training for all staff.

Please know that I am taking these agreements seriously and remain committed to providing your children with a safe, positive learning environment where they can reach their full potential. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Principal Mary Beck

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