How to Respond When Your Child is Canceled in Chicago Schools

March 23, 2021

Parents’ experience showcases lessons on addressing harassment which are relevant nationwide.

In interviews with parents and children who have been “canceled” at various Chicago public and private schools, the Chicago Contrarian discovered two common threads. First, there is not a “guidebook” or set of best practices on how to respond to confront and expose First Amendment, sexual harassment, Individualized Education Programs (IEP) and 504 plan violations based on "woke" pedagogical methods that result in cancellation and/or disciplinary action. Second, many parents are afraid to respond, intervene, or respond aggressively. And while many remain silenced, even more are not even aware of what their children are going through.  

Fortunately, from talking with parents who have spoken up and taken on the system, we have learned it is not only possible to successfully challenge schools (and win, sometimes in relative short order), but also that there is no reason to “fear” retribution. In fact, it is possible to flip the narrative, exposing specific behaviors, some which may be illegal, that can create fear in the teaching and administrative community, halting these behaviors in their tracks. 

But many situations won’t even reach this point. Most teachers and administrators are “not sufficiently competent, scared or simply too lazy of having to take a situation beyond which they have been ‘trained’ to handle,” says one parent who has defended students against accusations and “flipped the cards.” Others may be blissfully unaware of woke cancel culture, apathetic or even secretly agree with those who are doing the accusing.  

This parent notes she has spoken with parents and students at multiple Select Enrollment schools (Walter Payton College Prep, Northside College Prep, Jones College Prep, Lane Tech College Prep and Whitney Young Magnet) as well as private institutions (University of Chicago Laboratory Schools (Lab), Francis W. Parker, Latin School of Chicago, Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day, etc.) and has seen similar patterns at many — almost as if there is a playbook for teachers and administrators when attempting to put the kibosh on a non-conforming student. 

“Teachers have an immediate response which we call a ‘Level 1’ that will silence 99% of people, but when it gets to ‘Level 2’ escalation, they have no idea what to do, and a surprising number simply won’t care at this point once they see it will require extra time to deal with. And most are secretly terrified of the threats of legal action or media attention.” This is “Level 3,” according to our source. 

But where do you start? The first key, she suggests, is that “schools need to know you understand their playbook” and that you know “when their instructions run out” for what to do. In addition, “most teachers and administrators are also not equipped to respond to counter accusations, including harassment.” It is illegal for institutions to discriminate against individuals on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or genetic information. 

As important, she adds: “Schools need to see you will not back down. Despite their bark, most teachers and administrators are terrified of lawsuits or facing the headlines for radical policies, First Amendment violations, harassment or worse. When they see you are the one who is more willing to bite, the social justice pit bull will likely become docile when backed into a corner. The mere threat of escalation of an issue is often enough. But this may never be necessary. If you approach the situation in a kind, fact-gathering way at the start, you might be surprised how people respond.” 

What Can Students Be Harassed or Canceled For? 

One parent of a CPS student suggests first knowing what students might be harassed or canceled for is important in taking on the system (or, ideally, for children to respond themselves). She suggests that the most common use cases include situations involving “disagreement with a social justice movement.” For example, a student who offers counterpoints to pro Black Lives Matter (BLM), LGBTQ+ or indigenous peoples curriculum components — or questions the inclusion of specific materials — could find themselves “hauled in front of the thought police tribunal.” 

Another example that can result in cancellation, disciplinary or academic retribution is a refusal to comply with expectations around pronoun discussions. “My student got the evil eye saying he identifies as a cactus rather than he/him/his,” says one parent, “when asked what my son’s pronouns were at the start of a class.” While this may sound innocent enough, students are in fact losing credit in the Ivy League for not correctly listing pronouns at the start of final exams for not conforming to this request. She adds: “I believe there might be implicit bias, by teachers, in the grading for students that do not conform to the new pronoun norm at any point in time.” 

The wearing of political clothing that is not in support of Democratic candidates and/or officials, the mocking of Democrats or the mocking of movements can also get students in trouble. For example, “it is perfectly acceptable for a student at a Chicago school to wear a Biden/Harris or BLM mask or t-shirt, and many are in fact in teacher classrooms, but an article of clothing supporting a Republican cause or one that mocks BLM or another social justice movement could result in disciplinary action or implicit bias in grading by teachers.” A student at Whitney Young, a select enrollment high school, told the Chicago Contrarian that students who care about their grades are worried about expressing any “non-conforming” perspective via words or clothing.  

According to our sources, harassment can come in both direct and subtle forms. And just as critical race theory proponents suggest microaggressions exist towards any demographic group which does not identify as a white male, these very same social justice warriors are often guilty of applying their own biases onto others, especially when in a position of authority such as a teacher to student relationship. An example of this type of harassment might be such blinkered comments that a teacher — at a Lincoln Park area private school — made to students and members of the community on multiple occasions about their need to atone for the patriarchal sins of their forefathers and their “white privilege,” according to parents of a student.  

A common form of cancel culture that students are likely to encounter is a statement by teachers or peers that effectively states “they are worried what others may think of them” based on their perspective. This is a clever psychological trick, as everyone, especially impressionable children and even ornery teenagers, cares about what others think. Such a statement from a teacher or peer can be general or specific. One specific example we heard from parents was: “since you do not believe in this example of institutional racism, I’m worried someone may think you are racist.” 

These statements may not seem like cancel culture, but they are precisely a textbook means of silencing opposing viewpoints. Wonder where it comes from? It happens all over social media, but it is also endemic in the classroom. In fact, it is even taught by critical race theory diversity consultants to faculty and administrators at selected schools. 

The first step in learning this technique is being able to spot it, bookmark it, and separate any emotions in a response — and teaching students they are likely best off bringing it to their parents rather than confronting a teacher directly when they spot it. Moreover, you should tell your children this behavior might be illegal, if it is indeed a form of harassment (which in many cases, it is). 

Confronting Cancel Culture When Your Child is a Victim: Follow a Common Playbook

The Chicago Contrarian recommends the following steps as best practice based on talking with multiple parents when it comes to confronting student harassment and cancel culture directly when they are victims, rather than accused of specific activity resulting in disciplinary action (we’ll get to that in a future essay). 

First, parents should encourage students to be aware of potential canceling behavior, and let them know this is harassment. This may require a “sex-ed” type conversation with your pre-teens and teens — letting them know about the woke “birds and the bees” of radical teaching indoctrination — so they know to watch for it. 

Yet when an incident does occur, taking pedagogical authority on directly, especially faculty emboldened by social justice unions and administrators, brings potential risk for students. This is why parents are critical to this discussion from the start, and kids should immediately notify their parents when it occurs. Furthermore, when students are victims of cancel culture, they are victims of harassment, likely illegal harassment, and/or bullying if they are younger. 

While adults are taught in harassment training in the workplace to tell others, including superiors, about harassment that they have been the victim of, given the power differential between students and teachers/administrators, it makes very little sense for students to launch the first response. However, students should document precisely the nature of the harassment, both direct, and to borrow a phrase from the social justice movement, any “microaggression” towards them. Just like adults who have faced harassment in the workplace, the more detail a student can keep the better — date, class period/time, individuals involved, quotes, etc. 

Second, while it may seem like an issue to take directly to an offending teacher, the principal, even in a large school, is often the best first step. “When students are silenced or exposed to illegal harassment in the classroom that discriminates on the basis of race, color, religion or sex, principals will often want to handle the situation before it escalates,” says one parent whose son was a victim of harassment. A note to a principal may be as simple or short as, “Our child believes he may have been the victim of harassment in the classroom. I would like to discuss this matter with you directly as soon as possible.” 

You have the choice in this note to include specifics. In a larger school, especially with an established bureaucracy in the administration to handle various matters, details of a situation may help the principal delegate a resolution to peers. In a smaller school environment, less may be more in the note. Whether during an initial call/meeting or via email, principals will likely be responsive, and you may be surprised by their interest in remedying the situation. To have the greatest chance of initial success, notes and discussions should be direct and unemotional, and should request a specific remedy. 

For example: “Last week our daughter was harassed in the classroom based on expressing a perspective (e.g., she argued against BLM using violence as a means to an end, thought critical race theory was racist, disagreed with examples of institutional racism, etc). We politely demand that our daughter be able to express her viewpoints without fear of the teacher, administrators and the student mob threatening or belittling her in return, and especially without fear of it impacting her grades. She believes she was subject to this taunt specifically because she was a white female, and this is a form of harassment. Can you please moderate a solution with the teachers and those involved? We thank you for your prompt response to this matter.” 

As noted in the example above, it can be effective to ground or end a statement based on harassment given demographic identifiers or documented learning differences, as these are both legal grounds for dispute. For example: “What troubles me most is I am worried our son/daughter was the victim of this harassment and predatory bullying because of (fill in the blank): sex, race, color  IEP/504 learning plan, etc.” As noted, all of these are in violation of harassment policies, often at the state and federal levels, and could form the basis of a legal case (and media attention), which administrators are all too keenly aware of.

You are 80% likely to gain some satisfaction or resolution based on an initial exchange or conversation of the type outlined above. You might be surprised how empathetic administrators can be — so be kind to start. But if not, it is worth suggesting the potential for escalation legally and in the media. Note, threats should be made directly in conversation, not via email. This is sometimes unfortunately a necessary step, and you need to be prepared for it. It can be worth at this point as well doing initial data collection based on profiles (e.g., social media) and documented stories from other parents of those involved in the harassment consideration. 

You will likely be surprised what you find. For example: one Chicago parent found that a teacher at their school continuously expressed hate speech against conservative demographic groups on social media. These can be used to share with administrators too, even if they will not need to be shared with The Daily Mail, Daily Wire, Fox, Wall Street Journal Op/Ed page or even the humble Chicago Contrarian, for naming and shaming, assuming you can resolve the matter prior to escalation. But outside the courts, you do have media recourse, as well, and administrators are terrified at the thought of seeing their school and teachers in the headlines for clearly bigoted statements, especially when linked with illegal harassing behavior against children. 

When Your Child is Accused of Thought-crime 

The other situation that can occur is a situation in which your child is disciplined or threatened for expressing their viewpoint. This is not a time to be kind as a first step, as it is in the case of accusing a teacher. It is a more complicated scenario, one that our sources recommend consulting with an attorney prior to any meeting, unless you have experience in the situation. Usually the most beneficial technique in these situations is to confront an accusation with an accusation — e.g., saying your child is being harassed, and he/she is the victim. It may be necessary to raise voices, threaten escalation, etc. Also demanding an apology is another way of saying: “not only do we disagree with your actions or threats against our child, we believe you are in the wrong, and we will hold you to account.” 

One Chicago parent found satisfaction in just such a situation, and while not getting an apology, was able to get administrators and teachers to “back down” from a thought-crime investigation into their son, only with the acknowledgement that the child could have been more diplomatic in their approach to arguing his perspective. In this particular case, the parents also alleged potential violation of an IEP/504 learning plan, beyond attacking the thought-crime nature of what was actually happening, and the “woke inspired curriculum that had not been tested for even a full academic year.” They believed all of these arguments helped their case, but in particular, the “IEP/504 violation” got the most attention.  

Again, your mileage may vary in this situation, but deflection and threats (based on harassment), along with a combination of logic and vitriol in return will often work to defuse a situation. But remember: when you are on the defensive, we always recommend understanding your rights first by consulting an attorney — which can also be brought up in a meeting, ideally as a last resort, to show that you are willing to pursue a remedy in the courts, if necessary.  

For Every Action, There is an Equal and Opposite Reaction 

The ludicrousness of hauling children and parents in for thought-crime re-education is that it is already backfiring at Chicago schools, as is the orthodoxy of the new radical left social justice curriculum. Apologists for cancel culture and woke indoctrination should take heed that their efforts are creating a new generation of politically motivated children and teens, who will obviously disagree with being told how to think, as all pre-teens and teenagers have done since the advent of time. 

“What is ironic about all of this,” says a male student at Whitney Young, is that “all my friends have liberal moms and dads who don’t care, but the absurdity of the school is making my friends and I conservative.” Another Lane Tech student, who marched in the original BLM protests, opines: “I hear more about race now than I ever did from teachers, and the more it’s brought up, the more I don’t think anyone should be treated differently. So much of this is [expletive] … They (these teachers) are the ones who are racist and discriminate based on skin color and pronouns, not me.”

Teens will always rebel. But who would have thought we’d have the opposite of the 1960s on our hands based on the sermonizing of the radical left? 

Or, with apologies to Dr. Einstein, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

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