CPS teacher removed after allegedly telling student to ‘go back to your country’

Students staged a sit-in at Senn to protest the incident that happened when students refused to stand for the national anthem.

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Senn High School

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A Chicago Public Schools teacher who was accused of telling a Latina student to “go back to your country” has been removed from the school while the district conducts an investigation into the incident.

The incident took place last month at Senn High School in Edgewater during a Hispanic heritage assembly. Some students said they chose not to stand during a rendition of the national anthem out of protest of U.S. immigration policies and police brutality. But a teacher approached them and told them to stand — allegedly telling 18-year-old Yesica Salazar, who is a U.S. citizen, “I should go back to my country if I didn’t want to stand,” she told the Sun-Times.

Students staged a sit-in at school on Wednesday to protest what they believed was the lack of action by school leaders and CPS.

In a letter sent to parents Thursday, Principal Mary Beck said she initially expressed concerns to the district on the day of the assembly, Jan. 30.

“I made the district aware that one of our staff members may have communicated inappropriately with students,” the letter states. “While I worked with the district to gather information regarding this allegation, it may have appeared that our students’ voices were not being heard. I want to assure you that this was not the case.”

The letter continues: “As an investigation by the Office of Student Protections and Title IX (OSP) progressed and new information came to light, the district decided today to remove this individual from working in our school. At the conclusion of OSP’s investigation, a final determination will be made regarding whether it is appropriate for this individual to return to Senn.”

Beck could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

The teacher was identified by students as a physical education teacher. He makes $95,470, according to CPS records. He has not responded to emails requesting comment.

Salazar said she was glad that the teacher had been removed, but said she was concerned that he might be moved to a different school or would eventually return to Senn.

“We really shouldn’t have educators that speak to students like that, or have anti-immigrant views,” Salazar said in a phone interview Friday.

But, she added, she had been encouraged by the support she has received from her classmates.

“I have a lot of gratitude to the students who sat in with us,” Salazar said. “We were successful in bringing it to the attention of [CPS].”

Senn is one of CPS’ most diverse schools. Of the school’s 1,536 students, 42% are Hispanic, 24% are black, 17% are Asian and 13% are white. More than three out of four Senn students come from low-income families, and nearly 20% speak limited English.

Video of the sit-in circulated online showed crowds of students sitting in a school hallway and chanting. Things got heated at times: Chicago police said that a girl was arrested at the sit-in and charged with battery after a school administrator tried to break up a fight between two girls, and a “55-year-old male victim was pushed by a 15-year-old offender, causing him to fall.”

Beck said she had set up safe spaces for students, particularly in the wake of the protests.

“I know this week has been difficult for our school, and I want you to know that the concerns our students have expressed have been heard,” her letter said. “I’m committed to implementing the agreements I made with our students to heal our community.”

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