Flossmoor teacher resigns mid-year, alleges poor treatment

After months of discomfort about what he says are pervasive problems at the school, teacher Ryan Sinwelski resigned from his job at Parker Junior High in Flossmoor on March 3.
 
Along with his resignation, Sinwelski released a letter to area media outlets and others detailing a number of concerns he alleges about lack of leadership and discipline at the school. 
 
Since the start of the 2018-2019 school year, Sinwelski had been teaching French and English language arts at Parker. He was returning to the school where he began his career, teaching there from 2007 to 2009.
 
Sinwelski opened his letter with the following paragraph:
 
“... It pains me to leave (my students). However, I no longer feel mentally, emotionally or physically safe at Parker. ... I have had several parent meetings where I have been mocked, ridiculed, blamed for my students' behavior problems, berated, and otherwise abused even with administration present in the meeting.”

Flossmoor School District 161 released a statement on Monday regarding Sinwelski’s resignation. 
 
It reads, in part: “...Mr. Sinwelski raised allegations of harassment from students and parents, which District 161 and the Board of Education take very seriously. Administrators have reached out to Mr. Sinwelski in an attempt to gather additional information and to offer him support, and an investigation of the allegations will be conducted immediately. Flossmoor School District 161 does not and will not tolerate any forms of discrimination or harassment based on a person’s gender, race, religious affiliation, or sexual orientation.”

Superintendent Dana Smith could not be reached for further comment on Monday or Tuesday.

Sinwelski said Smith texted him late in the evening of March 3, after receiving the resignation letter. He didn’t reply, calling the text “too little, too late.”
 
In a Monday interview with the H-F Chronicle, Sinwelski said the problems started early, with an October 2018 parent meeting that was to address what he described as a “low-level” student behavioral issue. Shortly after the meeting started, Sinwelski said the mother was furious and blamed him for the problems.
 
“I explained this was just a normal procedure — it wasn’t even a detention — but she became irate,” he said. “Instead of taking responsibility and saying, ‘He shouldn’t be talking in class,’ it was, ‘It’s your fault that he’s doing what he’s doing.’”
 
Sinwelski said he keeps notes of all parent communications, regardless of the reason.
 
“‘...the mother expressed no desire to hold her son accountable to school rules and has even instructed her child not to apologize for disrespecting me and the class,’” Sinwelski read from his notes. “‘All of this was done by the mother in front of the student and the principal, undermining my authority as a teacher and embarrassing me as a staff member.’”
 
Sinwelski said he was shocked and saddened by what he experienced. “I felt humiliated, and that set the tone for the whole year,” he said. 
 
The ensuing months proceeded much the same way, he said, with behavioral problems being brushed aside and bad student actions resulting in lax or no consequences. It was always, he said, at the expense of teachers and staff who tried to maintain order while holding students accountable.
 
The final straw came on Feb. 20, when another meeting resulted in a lack of accountability by the parents, Sinwelski said, along with a failure by higher-ups to support him. 
 
Sinwelski said a student had made “anti-gay penis jokes” about him and referred to him as sounding “like a pedophile.” When Sinwelski was called to a meeting to discuss the incident, he thought for sure the student would offer an apology. Instead, he found himself the target of derision by the student’s parents.
 
The mother of the student mocked him in “exaggerated effeminate speech” and performed a “flirtatious” impersonation of him, touching her own husband’s arm, Sinwelski said. 
 
He said while this type of mocking can happen anywhere, the worst part was that the administrators in the room did nothing to stop the mother’s actions.
 
“Her gay caricature was disgusting, inappropriate and should have been reprimanded by administrators,” Sinwelski wrote in his resignation letter. “I have been harassed enough as a gay man in my life. I don't need to experience this at an educational institution of all places! We are supposed to be examples of fairness, kindness, and justice to students, not enablers of hate.”
 
In what he said was an agonizing decision, Sinwelski said he chose to leave before the conclusion of the school year. He didn’t see any other option, he said, since nothing was changing despite his complaints and those of his colleagues.
 
He released the letter about his experiences, he said, because he believes the Flossmoor community deserves better from school leaders. For too long, he said, parents have been complaining about Parker Junior High and quietly shuttling their children elsewhere. Sinwelski said he hopes his letter can instigate some change.

Sinwelski said he is content with the decision he made to leave Parker.
 
“The unit of English I was teaching when I left was, ‘When is it right to take a stand?’” he said. “You have to stand up for yourself. You have to stand up for what’s right.”
 

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