A Proviso Math and Science Academy math teacher who commented on Facebook that undocumented immigrants who have come to the U.S. as children should “go back” has been suspended without pay.
The Proviso Township High Schools District 209 school board voted 5 to 0 to authorize the suspension of at a meeting of the school board on Oct. 10. Board President Theresa Kelly abstained while board member Della Patterson, who had recently been hospitalized due to emergency health issues, was absent.
“I believe that kids should have the right to be in a safe, secure environment where they have every opportunity to do their best,” Kelly said during an interview on Thursday. “I also believe all children should be safe and that all employees should have due process and be treated fairly under the law.”
In a follow-up interview, Kelly clarified that she was not referring to her specific vote or the board’s decision regarding Pellegrini, adding that she cannot address matters of personnel.
On Saturday, school board secretary Claudia Medina said that the board and district “followed complete due process” while deciding how to address the issue with Pellegrini.
“We were sensitive and cognizant of the strife that [Pellegrini’s] actions caused students and parents in the community, many of whom came forward to complain to us. This issue was addressed based upon substantial disruption to the education environment,” Medina said. “It wasn’t based on the Facebook post.
“The district takes step to make sure that no one’s civil rights are violated in personnel matters. We are completely sensitive to all of our parents, students and teachers,” she said. “As a district, we engage in transparency and accountability, following due process at all times.”
During an interview on Sept. 12, the teacher, Dan Pellegrini, confirmed that he had posted the comment before apologizing and reversing his initial position.
The uproar over Pellegrini’s comment was sparked on Sept. 8, when Lynette Aguirre, who graduated from PMSA in 2010, posted to Facebook a screenshot of a letter addressed to District 209 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referencing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a policy implemented in 2012 by President Barack Obama and recently rescinded by President Donald Trump.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 wrote in response. “They should go back.”
Pellegrini’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. Pellegrini has since taken down his Facebook page.
Last month, a PMSA student started a change.org petition urging the school board not to fire Pellegrini. As of Oct. 13, the petition had garnered more than 400 supporters.
District 209 officials declined to disclose how long Pellegrini will be suspended, citing a policy regarding disclosure of personnel matters.