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D97 Joint Statement about April 3 Social Media Posts and Safety Response

On Wednesday, April 3, District 97 became aware of a social media post expressing concern over a class lesson that took place the previous day in one of our middle school classrooms, as well as threatening statements made online in reaction to the original post. 

First and foremost, District 97 is committed to creating safe, positive and inclusive learning environments for all of our students. As a board and superintendent team, it is important to us to be transparent with the community about what has transpired and how we are responding to uphold the compelling values that guide who we are and what we are trying to do in District 97 schools.

With this in mind, we are sharing updates on two aspects of what occurred this week. In addition to the instructional component, we want to make the community aware of the safety actions that were required of the district as a result of the social media posts. 

Regarding the instructional component of this situation:

  • Our expectation is that instruction in our schools reflects the Illinois Learning Standards while also aligning at all times with our commitment to creating a positive and inclusive learning environment for all students. 
  • We are currently investigating serious concerns that a racially-insensitive activity was used in a classroom at Julian Middle School.
  • Although the investigation is ongoing, our initial review indicates that cotton pictured in the social media post was part of a lesson on the history of the cotton gin and its impact on slavery. All students in the class participated in the lesson, and a few students asked to take the cotton home.
  • While the history of slavery is part of District 97 curriculum, we expect that complex topics such as these are taught with sensitivity and care. In addition, we recognize that special consideration must be given to the experiences of the communities most impacted by the topics that are being taught.

Regarding the safety component of this situation:

  • On Wednesday, April 3, numerous comments were made on the district’s Facebook page referencing the original social media post. These comments began as questions and concerns about the classroom activity, however, they escalated to include specific threats of violence to our school community.
  • Additionally, the district received a high volume of phone calls Wednesday from individuals outside of our community inquiring about the social media posts. Some of the individuals yelled at staff and used profanity while threatening to show up at the district office.
  • As a result of the social media comments and phone calls, our Chief Safety Officer contacted the Oak Park Police Department for support and worked collaboratively with officers to ensure an appropriate safety response. That included having patrols at both Julian and Brooks middle schools at dismissal.
  • Out of an abundance of caution, the district initiated a “Secure” at both middle schools Wednesday afternoon and all after-school activities were canceled. Staff and families of all impacted students were notified as part of our safety response.

We acknowledge that this situation has caused a great deal of confusion, concern, and hurt within and beyond our school community. As we continue to investigate, learn from what occurred and plan for next steps, the superintendent and the board are committed to upholding the values of our district, as outlined in our racial and educational equity policy


District 97 Board of Education

Dr. Ushma Shah