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LGBTQ-Friendly 3rd Grade Teacher Reinstated to Her Classroom

Danika Ellis

Associate Editor

Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books at the Lesbrary. Blog: The Lesbrary Twitter: @DanikaEllis

On September 13th, we wrote about Lauren Crowe, a third grade teacher from Glen Ellyn, Illinois, getting pulled from her classroom because of her TikToks sharing LGBTQ-friendly teaching resources and children’s books about activism. A fundraiser on behalf of Ms. Crowe ran while she was removed from teaching, selling t-shirts reading “Glen Ellyn is for EVERYONE,” with EVERYONE in rainbow. It closed having raised over $2,000, with 214 shirts sold — well clear of their 150 shirt goal.

During her absence, supportive chalk artwork reading “Choose to include,” “Lincoln LOVE: All are Welcome Here,” and “Spread Love + Kindness” was found every day outside of her classroom. Although the “concerned citizens” that called for her firing–many of whom were not local and did not have students in the district–were loud, there was also an outpouring of support, especially from her community.

Equality Illinois released a statement that they were “deeply troubled” by the investigation of Ms. Crowe, saying, “From what we have seen on these [TikTok] videos, [Crowe] is fulfilling the finest values of the profession and of the State of Illinois: equality, inclusion, and the freedom to be who you are without burden or discrimination.”

Equality Illinois also reminded the school board that teaching inclusivity is in the curriculum:

According to Public Act 101-0227 that took effect in July 2020 and that applies to all Illinois public school districts, “the teaching of history shall include a study of the roles and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the history of this country and this State.”  Several of the books highlighted by the teacher are specific to LGBTQ contributions in history.  We remind District 41 of its obligations under the LGBTQ Inclusive Curriculum Law. We are proud Illinois requires the inclusive and affirming teaching of LGBTQ contributions in history in public schools. Equality Illinois expects public school districts to follow the law.

They conclude by stating that even if the investigation finds Ms. Crowe to not be at fault, the threat of legal action could discourage teachers from including this content in the future:

[T]he threat of formal investigations could deter future teachers from supporting their students and following state law.  By caving into pro-hate voices and launching this investigation, Superintendent Dr. Melissa Kaczkowski and the leadership of Glen Ellyn District 41 have risked imposing a chilling effect on teachers who opt to support their students and follow state law.

We urge District 41 – and all school districts in Illinois – to support their amazing teachers and students and to hold firm against local and national individuals and groups who want to advance a hateful political agenda against LGBTQ youth, as we’ve seen in other states.

The fundraiser included many comments supporting Ms. Crowe and expressing disappointment that the school board would take her out of classrooms. Many of them were from local residents, with messages like:

“Glen Ellyn is a better place for the love and care Ms. Crowe shows to her students. She is an incredible person and asset to her school, community and the world ❤️”

“I live in Glen Ellyn and teach middle school in a nearby district. I support Ms. Crowe’s commitment to equity and inclusion. Thank you, Ms. Crowe, for making Glen Ellyn a better community.”

“Fellow teacher, Glen Ellyn resident, and former volunteer at Lincoln. Embarrassed for the town that this is happening. Don’t let non-residents dictate what is being taught in our schools or who it is being taught by.”

“My daughter is a better person for having miss Crowe as a teacher. How far have we fallen as a society that we’re up in arms for someone teaching our children to be kind and think of others?”

During the September 20th school board meeting, D41 School Board President Robert Bruno shared a statement about the conclusion of the investigation into Ms. Crowe:

Before we get into the the agenda for tonight’s meeting, most of you, most people in the district, are aware of a recent significant social media issue that the district had to address. On behalf of the entire school board, I’d like to make a few summary comments.

First of all, the investigation was very cooperative, deliberative, and comprehensive. Many of the public accusations based on the evidence were highly inaccurate. We are pleased that the district has resolved this matter, and the board remains supportive of the process utilized and the outcome.

Let me also, on behalf of the entire school board, be very clear: the district and the board’s commitment to diversity, equality, and inclusion is unconditional. Finally, our commitment to the safety of our employees and our students is unwavering.

It’s fantastic news that Ms. Crowe is back in her classroom and that the fabricated accusations against her have been dismissed. It’s upsetting that it happened at all, however. Her TikToks sharing resources for how to be an inclusive teacher that makes the classroom safe for all learners should have been a cause for celebration, not investigation.

Several people spoke at the meeting to express their support for Ms. Crowe and question the board’s decision to start an investigation in the first place. The first public comment shared the importance of teachers like Ms. Crowe, and how they can save lives:

I wanted to express my support for Ms. Crowe and her work at Lincoln and her support of inclusivity and diversity in the classroom, because I personally find the criticism that she’s been getting disgusting. And I say this as a lifelong resident of Glen Ellyn. […]

I also say this because I am transgender. And not too long ago, I was a transgender child. And I would guess that there are a lot of you here who have never even really met a trans person before, or at least not a trans person that’s open about their identity, but we are here. We’re part of your community. And I met many trans kids while I was at Glenbard West [High School], and I’m sure that there are many throughout all of our districts, in Glen Ellyn and the wider community.

I obviously didn’t know that I was trans when I was a kid. I had never even heard the word in the early 2000s, when I was at Ben Franklin [Elementary School], but that didn’t matter, because I knew I was different. And I dealt with bullying from students and from teachers, all because I wore boy clothes and played boy games and read books that were meant for boys, as my teachers insisted.

And I felt isolated and excluded from my classrooms and my school community. So much so, in fact, that I developed severe anxiety and suicidal thoughts by the age of nine. My experiences are not uncommon. Ask any trans adult and they will tell you the same story. And data shows us that the suicide rates for trans kids, queer kids, and kids of color are astronomical compared to their peers. If you’re interested in learning more, I can direct you to some research I compiled as part of my honors thesis while I was at New York University.

So, children are going to continue to be trans and queer, and our community is going to continue growing in racial and ethnic diversity. These are facts. If these kids feel isolated, like I did, if they do not have a school community that celebrates and empowers them for their identities, they risk the highest rates of bullying, mental illness, and suicide than any other group. Those are also facts.

Children’s lives are not political statements. What Ms Crowe is doing in her classroom is not part of an agenda. What she is doing is nothing short of life-saving for these vulnerable children, and it should serve it as an example for classrooms across the country. Those children deserve to feel like they belong. Your children deserve to feel like they belong. Ms. Crowe should be back in the classroom immediately, and we as a community need to support her, support our children, regardless of what clothes they wear or what books they read, because it could mean life or death.

The next speaker explained that she had prepared this statement before hearing Dr. Bruno’s statement, but that “I’d also like to make it loud and clear that this is not the message you are sending your community.” She reminded the board of the inclusive curriculum law in Illinois, which gives LGBTQ students the chance to see themselves reflected in their lessons.

The elected school board and district 41 administration: you should be ashamed for not doing everything in your power to support and defend a teacher who is not only supporting all official Illinois state state learning standards, but a teacher who’s trying to be inclusive of all students to ensure they feel welcome in our buildings and classrooms by showcasing material that represents them.

No student in this community should ever have to feel uncomfortable with who they are or the family they come from. No teacher should ever have to feel they are wrong to showcase, own, or incorporate inclusive materials in their classroom. To echo the signs we see throughout our communities, Glen Ellyn and Wheaton are for everyone. District 41 is for everyone.

By listening to the loud, politically charged outside of our community, the same adults who are harassing our children for wearing masks to school, you are telling the community you serve that our district and our home isn’t actually for everyone. Your current message is loud and clear. I understand you just made that short message to us, but it is not loud and clear to the community. Your current message is loud and clear to the community, and that message is very far from equity and inclusion. Anything but publicly supporting and defending the passionate educator in question is a message exclusively of discrimination and outright homophobia.

If that is the message that you want to send as elected board members, then you don’t deserve a leadership role in this community. As elected board members, your top focus is representing and educating all students in the community, not molding your image to the vocal minority spewing hate. Thank you for your time and please do the right thing by publicly, not just in this board meeting, defending your educators and your students when they do the right thing.

Other speakers reminded the board of the D41 motto, “Choose To Include.” One woman held back tears as she said, “the second highest cause among young children and adolescents is suicide. What are we doing? We cannot have blood on our hands because we’re fighting and we’re against inclusivity.”

A speaker who is raising a son with his husband reminded the people gathered that LGBTQ people are part of their community: “If you are thinking, ‘I don’t want my kids to learn about LGBTQ,’ It’s part of life. It’s me. It’s us. It’s our son, Adam.”

Another speaker pointed out that this controversy was manufactured for political reasons by groups outside of the community:

It’s important to recognize that individual groups from around the country are making it their mission to infiltrate communities outside of their own with the goal of sowing mistrust, hurling innuendo, and deliberately harming people in their wake. Unfortunately, there are also individuals within communities who choose to perpetuate and invite this behavior in. […]

It is incumbent upon administrators to support their educators in fulfilling their duties under the law and to assure ensure equal protections for all students and teachers, and it is our collective responsibility to call out fear-mongering and thinly veiled bigotry when we see it. If you agree, please do not be silent. Make your voice heard.

Of course, not all comments were supportive, including a commenter who compared previous speakers to Nazis.

The board concluded comments by reiterating: “District 41 is a safe place that’s going to support all its students in all of its families, no matter what their differences might be. Our differences are what make us a community, and we have to respect that, and this will be the heart of what our district is.”

As a flood of book challenges, anti-CRT protests, and other conservative censorship attempts roll in, it’s rare to get good news follow up. Sometimes, it’s because school administrators have bowed to pressure and trumped-up charges of child pornography, pedophilia, or other “protect the children” panic strategies that distract from the facts. Other times, though, it’s because good news just doesn’t get the same amount of traction. It’s easy to get outraged: it’s harder to follow a story longterm and fight, celebrating the small victories along the way.

So let’s celebrate Ms. Crowe being back in her classroom, where she belongs. I hope that she felt the outpouring of support from her community during this incredibly stressful time. I hope that she can still hold onto that passion and enthusiasm for teaching, because we need more teachers like her.