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Teacher Says He Was Reprimanded for Mentioning His Husband in Class

Philip and Nathan Etter
From left: Philip and Nathan Etter

Illinois teacher Nathan Etter says administrators discriminated against him, but they say they're committed to diversity and inclusion.

An Illinois teacher says school officials reprimanded him and treated him in a discriminatory manner after he told first-graders a Valentine's Day bouquet came from his husband.

When students saw the bouquet in music teacher Nathan Etter's classroom at Prairie View Grade School, one asked if it came from his wife, reports the Daily Herald, a Chicago-area newspaper. He replied, "No, it's from my husband."

After some students at the school, which is near Elgin in the distant Chicago suburbs, made comments such as "ew" and "gross," Etter decided to make the incident a "teachable moment," he told the paper. He explained that some families have two fathers or two mothers, then asked, "Just because something is different, should we be disrespectful? And they said, no, and we moved on with our lesson."

The following week, after a parent complained to school district officials, Etter was called in to a meeting with his principal and a union representative. "What our district leaders wanted to convey to me was to 'stick to the curriculum.' I took that as a verbal warning," Etter, a first-year teacher, told the Herald. "I'm an untenured teacher, so they don't have to necessarily have a reason to not invite me back next school year to teach." He took the "stick to the curriculum" comment to mean "don't talk about being gay," he added.

The situation prompted Etter's union, the Central Education Association, and other supporters to rally for him Monday evening, then pack a meeting of the Central Unit School District 301 school board meeting afterward. "What happened to Nathan is unacceptable, discriminatory, and needs to be addressed so that we can have an inclusive environment for all our students, teachers, and staff," said CEA member Dave Chapman in a letter announcing the action. An earlier letter from the union to district faculty and staff had said Etter was treated in a discriminatory fashion, and in response school board president Jeff Kellenberger and superintended Todd Stirn released an open letter stating the district's commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Kellenberger told attendees at Monday's meeting that administrators "considered the matter resolved" and that Etter's job "was never in jeopardy," the Chicago Tribune reports. "Discrimination, harassment, exclusion, or intimidation in any form have no place in our schools and are not tolerated in District 301," he 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." He did acknowledge that administrators "can always learn and improve."

Etter, who has now been asked back to teach in the coming school year, told the Tribune he no longer fears losing his job, but he would like to receive an apology from the district. He also plans to have a meeting with Stirn.

About 100 people showed up to support him Monday night, and he and his husband, Philip, received a standing ovation at the school board meeting, Chicago TV station WMAQ reports. Several made statements to the media. "For this to happen now in this day and age, in [the] 21st century, this has to go," retired teacher Deb Twenhafal told WMAQ.

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