When Nathan Etter, a first-year music teacher at Prairie View Grade School near Elgin, received the bouquet from his husband, some first-grade students asked who they were from. He said he answered honestly and that some students reacted with comments like “ewww” and “gross.”
Etter, 30, who has been married to Philip Etter since August, said he used the interaction as a “teachable moment,” making very brief comments about respect and tolerance and explaining how some families have two moms or two dads.
According to administrators in Kane County-based Central Unit School District 301, the parent of one student contacted the district with “serious concerns” about Etter’s comments, prompting the principal to meet with the teacher to learn more about what had occurred.
School board President Jeff Kellenberger told the crowd at Monday’s gathering that, after that meeting, “the district had no further concerns and considered the matter resolved. Mr. Etter’s employment … was never in jeopardy.”
But Etter and his union apparently interpreted the meeting differently. Nearly two months later, according to district officials, the vice president of the local teachers union sent an email to the entire district faculty and staff claiming “school leaders treated Mr. Etter in a discriminatory manner,” according to an open letter released in response the next day by Kellenberger and Superintendent Todd Stirn.
The union claimed Etter was told to “stick to the curriculum.” The accusations of discrimination were repeated in social media postings and prompted a “rally for equality” before Monday’s school board meeting, supported by the statewide Illinois Education Association. The Etters have received letters of support and more than 30 bundles of flowers and gifts, they said.
The group of about 100 students, parents and union members gathered in the frigid weather outside before the board meeting, with participants carrying signs saying, “We support Mr. Etter” and “Respect for All.” They chanted, “Inclusion and diversity is more than just a policy.”
A parent of three children in the district, Rebecca DiDomenico, whose husband is a teacher in the district, welcomes Etter’s “teaching moments.” She said Etter was “doing his job” by teaching “social and emotional characteristics.”
“We are behind you,” she said to Etter.
Another parent said school officials should have supported Etter when the parent called and not “humiliated” him.
Eric Nolan, a graduate of the district, said he has two children with his husband and hopes they would be supported should someone ever insult or bully them because of his relationship. “Silence is not neutral,” he said.
But district officials were adamant that there was no discriminatory or disciplinary action taken against Etter.
“Discrimination, harassment, exclusion or intimidation in any form have no place in our schools and are not tolerated in District 301,” the board president said. “While we appreciate the support shown to Mr. Etter, he was not treated unjustly.
“There is nothing to protest here. We are with you,” Kellenberger added, though he conceded that district leaders “can always learn and improve.”
Stirn said Etter is a “valued” teacher who has been asked back for next year.
Stirn said he was surprised when the district received a letter last week alerting them to the planned rally. He believed the matter had been closed in February.