BURLINGTON – Parents, teachers and students are all planning to attend the #Rally4Equality to push the Central Community Unit School District 301 Board of Education to pledge to create a safe and accepting environment.

The rally was organized by members of the Central Education Association (CEA) to call for change after the Central Community Unit School District discriminated against CEA member and Prairie View Elementary School music teacher Nathan Etter. The CEA is composed of 288 District 301 teachers.

“We want to make sure we have an environment that is welcoming to all regardless of their background. It’s important that students from a young age know that they are free to be who they are, and they will be celebrated for their differences,” CEA member Dave Chapman said. “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.”

On Valentine’s Day, Mr. Etter received flowers from his husband.  His students questioned who they were from and some students had an adverse reaction when Mr. Etter told his students they were from his husband. Mr. Etter saw the situation as a teachable moment to reinforce a message of respect and tolerance. He spent less than a minute on the issue.  A couple weeks later, Mr. Etter had a meeting with district officials and was notified that a parent called the school district to complain. Mr. Etter was told the parent said he was “using Valentine’s Day as a means to celebrate his lifestyle choices.”  Mr. Etter was then instructed to “stick to the curriculum.”

“The way the situation was handled has brought me great personal concern and continues to cause me to question my security in my teaching position in the district,” Mr. Etter said. “We hope by taking this stand against the discriminatory actions made by the administration that this will bring a positive change for District 301.  Our goal is for everyone to work in an environment that is more accepting and supportive of our diverse population of students, teachers and community members.”

All rally goers are being asked to wear white and are invited to come stand with Mr. Etter at the board of education meeting immediately following the rally. Mr. Etter plans to read a letter at the meeting asking the board to pledge to be more respectful and inclusive of all students, staff and teachers regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation and religion.

The rally is set to begin at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, April 16, at Central Middle School (44W303 Plato Rd) in Burlington.  The board of education meeting is at the same location. That meeting starts at 6 p.m.

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The 135,000 member Illinois Education Association (IEA-NEA) is the state’s largest education employee’s organization. IEA represents preK-12 teachers outside of the city of Chicago and education support staff, higher education faculty, retired education employees and students preparing to become teachers, statewide.