Scandalous Intolerance in District 113
Scandalous Intolerance in District 113
Written By Laurie Higgins   |   11.16.09

Reading Time: 7 minutes

It was suggested to me that I file a Freedom of Information Act request with the school district for which I worked for a decade and which my four children attended. It was suggested that I request documents that mentioned my name. Neither I nor my husband was prepared for what we read in district emails, which are, of course, public documents.

The district is District 113 which is composed of Deerfield High School (DHS) in Deerfield, IL and Highland Park High School (HPHS) in Highland Park, IL, both affluent Chicago suburbs. I worked full-time in the writing center and was a member of the DHS English Department.

These emails resulted from my criticism of public education in general or District 113 in particular for promoting exclusively liberal views of the nature and morality of homosexuality; for promoting “critical race theory” or “critical social theory”; and for failing to provide balance on these two topics, both in terms of resources presented to students as well as to staff and faculty through professional development opportunities. The views I expressed are held by many across the country, including many prominent scholars; and I expressed them openly, either directly to the administration and school board or in public forums like the Chicago Tribune, Pioneer Press, or pro-family websites.

There are two reasons I am making public the content of some of these emails:

First, the public needs to be aware of the ways that activist educators who profess to value diversity and honor all voices really think about those who hold conservative views. All taxpayers, but particularly conservative taxpayers, need to understand that hatred of conservative views results in censorship in curricula and worse.

Second, there are District 113 employees who demonstrate a degree of incivility, intolerance, hatred, or lack of professionalism that is truly shocking. They engage in what can only be described as cyber-bullying–malicious, defamatory behavior for which students would be disciplined if they engaged in it.

I will allow those who are running our schools, teaching our children, extolling respect, tolerance, diversity, and inclusivity, and whose salaries are paid by the public, to speak in their own voices. I offer only brief parenthetical comments in red italics following some of the emails. I have identified the “sexual orientation” of openly homosexual teachers or administrators in the hope of disabusing IFI readers of the notion that the sexual orientation of educators is irrelevant. Some names of people were redacted from the emails by the district law firm. They will be identified as “redacted”:

From Superintendent George Fornero to DHS English teacher who taught Angels in America, Jeff Berger-White: “This is mostly an FYI however I found it strange. Its [sic] from a community activist in Highland Park who knows a friend of a friend of Lauries [sic].

And then Fornero forwarded this email to Berger-White:

I have a pretty good idea that she doesn’t care for Jews. [Laurie’s son], now in his 20’s was seeing a Jewish girl when he was 13. Even though they were a couple in school, he was not allowed to attend her bat mitzvah ceremony because he was not allowed to step foot in a temple. I guess the contamination would have spread to his pure heart nor did he attend her celebration-probably too many Christ killers there. [This is an abhorrent, malignant lie. Not in my private or public words or in my interactions with colleagues or students have I ever expressed anti-Semitic views. Growing up, my son had more than one girlfriend and many close buddies who were Jewish, and he attended countless bat and bar mitzvahs, as did my other children. In addition, unlike some parents, I required my children to attend the religious ceremony if they wanted to attend the evening celebration. How are the anti-Christian slurs in this email any less offensive than anti-Semitic slurs? And how could a superintendent forward a gossipy, pernicious, libelous email like this to anyone, let alone another district employee?]

From openly homosexual HPHS teacher Paul Swanson to openly homosexual superintendent George Fornero: “I’ve said it before–I could silently work with a gay attorney advising me–and I wouldn’t represent the district. I just want to debate her….OK, never around a board election. But I’m dying to take her on…. Hey, what about if next year I teach Angels as an act of solidarity. It wouldn’t hit [redacted] his first year, and it would show them they didn’t win because they didn’t. You stood up to them! OR how about I teach something really gay, but not really sexual.”

Paul Swanson to George Fornero: “cmon————–I want the American Civil Liberties Union on [Laurie’s] ass so fast–that’s the way to get her–get the big guns to do it. There must be someone in the area who’s connected to the Anti-Defimation [sic] League. [This reveals that Swanson believes that my views either are or should be illegal. That should trouble taxpayers.]

Paul Swanson to George Fornero: “I have a name/word for this woman and I cannot put it in print.”

HPHS teacher’s aide Beth Avraham to HPHS Spanish teacher, Mr. Robin Oliver: “[LAURIE] IS ONE SICK PUPPY!!!!!! Some Christian!!!!!! I hope she burns in the hell she believes in–what a sick bitch….”

Beth Avraham to Robin Oliver: “That bitch actually told me to my face that my brother would burn in hell. She is such a sicky….She will eventually get what she deserves….I just wish I could be there to see it happen. [I knew Beth and thought we were friends. Clearly, I was wrong. One point of clarification: I have never said anything about her brother to her or anyone else. I know nothing about her brother, and I never use language like the language she ascribed to me. These comments epitomize the hypocrisy of those who self-righteously proclaim their commitment to tolerance while at the same time calling those who hold different moral convictions hateful names.]

Beth Avraham to Robin Oliver: “We have a lot of non-thinking, pee-brained, stupid, hateful ignorant duds walking around this earth who have nothing else to do but to cause trouble for others.”

DHS social worker Bonnie Mollison to DHS English Department aide Mary Boote: “Thank you for sending this pathology on to me, it has opened my eyes.” [To read what a public school social worker views as “pathological” click here]

Openly homosexual DHS assistant principal Lilly Brandt to superintendent George Fornero: “LOL… [Laurie’s] laying the groundwork for opening up the next front–Laramie Project.

“It’s been a long seven years…remember that this BEGAN LONG before you were here…back in the Linda Hansen days with the Heidi Chronicles, my first year in the district…welcome to DHS!.

“Every year, they have been chipping away and chipping away. So, when we ask ourselves, ‘at what cost?’ the answer must come not from looking only at Angels in America, but from looking at the entire seven years worth of anti-homosexual harassment that the system (and DHS particularly) has endured.” [The three plays Brandt references are obscene, profane, pro-homosexual plays that have been taught at both high schools.]

HPHS assistant principal Tom Koulentes to George Fornero: “The hatred displayed in this letter is surpassed only by the ignorance.” [This was a response to a very brief email I sent to District 113 administrators and school board members in which I criticized District 113’s promotion of the SEED program and Glenn Singleton’s “critical race theories.” There is not one word of hatred in it, and I would be happy to provide a copy of it to anyone who is interested.]

From [redacted] to George Fornero (subject: as per school board member Harvey Cohen’s suggestion): “After we talked today I received a copy of a letter that Laurie Higgins sent Stu Senescu, the president of the caucus….I guess [Laurie] is now more focused on the board than Deerfield High School. I wonder if this will motivate her to find a candidate to back. Harvey and I are at odds on who can be on the board. Laurie and I both think that board members cannot work for the district nor can their spouses. Harvey tells me that there is no rule against it. If Harvey is correct, please do not spread the news until it is too late to file petitions. [This community member was trying to prevent either me or my husband from running for the school board, and she was involving Superintendent Fornero in the manipulative effort. They surely wouldn’t want any philosophical diversity on the school board.]

From expensive San Francisco diversity consultant Glenn Singleton to George: “I am not sure how healthy my reading the venom-filled, slanderous remarks of Laurie and her spouse are.” [Neither I nor my husband have ever sent a “venom-filled or slanderous” email to George about Singleton or anyone else.]

Superintendent George Fornero to Glenn Singleton: “Welcome to White Suburbia!”

Robin Oliver to George Fornero: “What is this IFI and why are they so repugnant in their views?”

There are yet more deeply disturbing emails, but, unfortunately, I can’t reveal them. Highland Park High School Spanish teacher Robin Oliver, whom I have never met, sent two reprehensible emails to George Fornero and Paul Swanson that I will not make public because the information he discussed would be terribly painful to family members of mine who have no connection to any district issues.

And before now, I have revealed to very few people that about a year before I was demoted at Deerfield High School, I was told by then principal Sue Hebson that I was prohibited–as either a staff member or community member–from speaking to any staff or faculty members other than her or George Fornero about any district concerns I might have. So much for free speech and diversity.

All of this–from the adolescent gossiping to the attempt to manipulate a school board election to the malicious vitriol–are responses to my criticism of the district’s sustained promotion of critical race theory (i.e., social justice theory a la Glenn Singleton and Peggy McIntosh); its relentless promotion of liberal views of homosexuality; and its refusal to present resources from scholars who hold dissenting views on these topics.

What these emails reveal is the utter hypocrisy of administrators and teachers who publicly claim that they value diversity, promote tolerance, and treat all with respect, while privately scorning and deriding those who hold dissenting views. Tragically, these are not the only public school administrators and faculty members who share these views and engage in such malevolent rhetoric. They just happen to be the ones who got caught.

My personal feelings about these revelations are unimportant. The integrity and professionalism of district employees and the sincerity of their claims regarding tolerance, respect, diversity, inclusivity, intellectual inquiry, and critical thinking are, however, important.

If District 113 taxpayers choose not to address the serious pedagogical failings exposed in these emails or the ethical breaches these emails reveal about some district employees who engage in unprofessional, irresponsible, manipulative, and hateful behavior, then I guess they will have the kind of school climate they deserve–one in which conservative views are censored and in which, behind-the–scenes, conservatives are savaged. It’s too bad for students, especially those who hold conservative world views. They deserve better.

It really is time for government schools to collapse under their own corrupt weight.

Laurie Higgins
Laurie Higgins was the Illinois Family Institute’s Cultural Affairs Writer in the fall of 2008 through early 2023. Prior to working for the IFI, Laurie worked full-time for eight years...
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