District 181 parent petition protests teachers’ T-shirts
Teachers wore the "superpower" T-shirts at an Aug. 22 board meeting when they came out to show support for the Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills Teachers' Association. | Chuck Fieldman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 11, 2011 5:25PM
A Hinsdale resident who has children attending school in Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills Elementary District 181 has started an online petition, asking for signatures of others who don’t like the blue T-shirts that have been worn in the classroom by some of the district’s teachers.
The T-shirts have a Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills Teachers’ Association logo printed on the front and the words, “I Teach. What’s Your Super Power?” printed on the back. Some teachers have worn the shirts during the school day on Fridays, which typically is a day on which some teachers and students wear clothing aimed at promoting school spirit. Many teachers wore the shirts to a School Board meeting last month in support of the teachers’ union. Teachers began the school year without a contract.
“Many of us feel it is simply inappropriate to involve our children in contract negotiations, yet we have lacked a vehicle to articulate this message as a community,” said Tracy Leddy, the parent who initiated the online petition.
The petition is online at www.care2.com by searching there for D-181 Parent Petition.
Leddy said he has no problem with a huge turnout of teachers wearing the shirts at an Aug. 22 board meeting.
“I don’t care what they wear to a board meeting, but it doesn’t belong in the classroom,” he said, adding the plan is to deliver the petition to Superintendent Renee Schuster, the board and teachers’ association.
Justine Horne, president of the teachers’ association, said the words “I Teach. What’s Your Super Power?” on the back of the shirts is not directed at parents or the board. It is directed at students, but not in the way Leddy perceives.
“The teachers decided last spring to give out shirts each year that promote district spirit and identify us as teachers,” Horne said. “The specific idea behind this year’s shirt was to promote students’ awareness of their own strengths, or ‘superpowers.’
“We thought children could draw pictures, do a written response, or just have a discussion about what they might be good at. It could be art, music, math, or sports, but the important message is that everyone has a strength.”
Horne said the idea for, and ordering of, the shirts was completed by the summer at a time when teachers fully expected contract negotiations would be completed by the start of school.
Shirts were distributed to teachers Aug. 22, the first day of work for teachers in the 2011-12 school year. Classes began for students Aug. 25.
“Once members of the community started incorrectly associating these shirts as a connection with the negotiations process, we decided to hold off on the specific lesson tying the shirts to the message” Horne said. “We, of course, will always continue to help students identify their strengths and make them feel proud of themselves because that is our job as a teacher.”
Horne said when students have asked why teachers are wearing the shirts, the response has been that spirit wear is worn on Fridays by students and teachers, and the shirt is spirit wear.
Horne’s explanation didn’t ease Leddy’s mind.
“I don’t believe it,” he said. “And even if it is true, I would say it is very poor judgment.
“It is very unusual for parents in our community to collectively speak up against a particular behavior by our teachers. But this matter may be coming to a boiling point.”
Leddy said he also is very bothered that parents were not made aware by anyone affiliated with District 181 that some teachers have worn their T-shirts in the classroom.
“This is a district that sends us little notes about everything that’s going on, but nothing about this,” he said.
Horne said he would consider communicating the concerns expressed by Leddy to teachers, but would stop short of telling teachers what they should wear in the classroom.