A Proviso Math and Science Academy teacher has apologized for a Facebook post in which he said undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children should “go back.” The post ignited a furious response from current and former students at the Forest Park school.
When reached by phone on Tuesday, math teacher Dan Pellegrini confirmed that he posted the comment to Facebook, but he apologized before reversing his position.
“Yes that’s me,” Pellegrini said, before explaining what prompted the comment. “One of my friend’s dad was killed by an undocumented worker. I got annoyed and ticked off. I wanted to delete the post but at the time it was too late. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend anyone. I actually don’t agree with [DACA recipients] being sent back.”
The online protest sparked on Sept. 8, when Lynette Aguirre, who graduated from PMSA in 2010, posted to Facebook a screenshot of a letter addressed to D209 administrators, including Superintendent Jesse Rodriguez, signed by the Class of 2010.
“Attached is a snipet [sic] of current teacher Mr. Dan Pellegrini expressing his thoughts on the current removal of DACA,” the letter states, referencing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a policy implemented in 2012 by President Barack Obama and recently rescinded by President Donald Trump.
The program offers a two-year period of relief from deportation that can be renewed, in addition to the opportunity to obtain a work permit, to people who immigrated to the United States illegally as minors. DACA recipients are often referred to as “Dreamers.”
Aguirre also posted to Facebook a screenshot of the original comment that was posted on Facebook by Pellegrini and written in response to another comment.
“Pells I normally agree with you but a lot of pmsa kids are dreamers,” wrote a Facebook user whose account name is blacked out. “I can’t stand to watch them not have a future here. They didn’t have a voice in their parents decision to bring them [sic].”
“That’s too bad,” Pellegrini allegedly writes in response. “They should go back.”
The teacher’s comments were written around the same time that the school district sent out a letter to families expressing the district’s support of DACA students who may attend district schools, and providing information about the program.
Proviso Township High School District 209 officials had not spoken with Pellegrini as of Tuesday morning, according to Cynthia Moreno, communications director for the district.
At least three students claimed that Pellegrini, who apparently had befriended many of his former students on Facebook, had by Sunday blocked most PMSA alumni that he had once been linked to on the social media platform.
The open letter to District 209 administrators that Aguirre posted on Sept. 8 had generated 80 reactions, 74 shares and 66 comments by Sept 12.
Proviso Township High School District 209 officials said in a statement released on Monday that they were “aware of the social media posting being circulated with allegations of a staff member at D209.
“The district has taken the necessary steps to address this matter. Please know that our schools welcome all students and families regardless of their citizenship, immigration status, or background. I want to assure you that PTHS D209’s faculty and staff is committed to the physical safety and emotion well-being of all students.”
The reactions from former and current PMSA students to Pellegrini’s comment ranged the gamut — from students defending the teacher’s right to express his opinions to those who condemned the teacher.
Although the overwhelming majority of those who posted comments on Aguirre’s post were in opposition to Pellegrini’s statements and/or his public conduct, some students were supportive of the teacher, who Aguirre said has been at PMSA since 2009 — when the school opened.
Mercedes Jackson, whose Facebook post indicates that she currently attends PMSA, was among the few students in support of Pellegrini.
“Y’all bashing him about his opinion doesn’t make y’all any better,” Jackson wrote. “All this is so unnecessary. As a PMSA student now, Pellegrini is doing his job. Very pathetic how you guys are trying to drag his name through the dirt.”
On Sunday, Aguirre said that, while she doesn’t want to see Pellegrini terminated, she felt compelled to speak out against the comment and bring it to the attention of the district.
“I’ve gotten messages current PMSA students who don’t feel welcomed at the school because of these comments,” she said. “I just wanted them to know there are people who will stand up for DACA students.”