News (USA)

Catholic school teacher outed and harassed by students, then fired

A scene from Chicago's Pride Parade celbrating LGBTQ teachers.
A scene from Chicago's Pride Parade celebrating LGBTQ teachers. Photo: Shutterstock

A Chicago Catholic school teacher was outed by one of his students, harassed until he was having anxiety attacks, and then fired by the school.

Matt Tedeschi taught religious studies at St. Ignatius College Prep, a Jesuit high school, since 2013. He loved his students and said that he was always pleased by how polite they were, and he was going to be considered for tenure this fall.

A colleague who wished to remain anonymous said, “Matt was known as being a really tough teacher, but he was really good. Most of the kids really enjoyed him — he was very smart, witty.”

Tedeschi was not out at the school.

In February 2016, though, all of that changed. A student found Tedeschi’s OkCupid profile. According to DNAInfo, the profile contained no explicit content, did not include Tedeschi’s name, and did not mention St. Ignatius.

“Never once did I think a high schooler would be on it,” he said.

The student emailed screenshots of the profile to other students. One responded in a text message, “Wow. This is SOOO juicy.”

Tedeschi told administrators about what happened and said that they were initially supportive of him, but, after talking with students, no one was actually punished for what happened.

And then the harassment started, both online and in the classroom.

“He was sort of cyberbulled by some of our students,” another colleague said.

By April, Tedeschi’s sexuality was still being discussed by students, including one who wrote a Tweet-storm about it that ended with “Let’s not forget I have screenshots that can end you.” The student, who apparently doesn’t understand the concept of blackmail, attached a photo from Tedeschi’s profile.

He went to the principal with the tweets, but the student only got two detentions. “It was a slap on the wrist,” he said.

Tedeschi says that the harassment continued and the administration did nothing to stop it. “I was having anxiety attacks before I went to class. It just completely undermined my authority as a teacher and made me feel small. This unnecessarily pitted me against my students, which never should have been the case.”

Then, this spring, there was an unrelated incident where a student in his class shared sensitive information about another student. Tedeschi told her to report it to the administration and he also reported the incident as well. Later that week, he was told that his contract was not going to be renewed because he allowed that conversation to happen at all.

When he discussed the incident with another teacher, he was fired immediately instead of being allowed to complete the school year. He was even denied his salary for the rest of the year because he refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Tedeschi believes that he was fired because he is gay. “It’s a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, because they are worried about negative fallout,” he said. “I never would have taken this job if I thought this could happen to me.”

St. Ignatius contends that Tedeschi was “treated fairly,” but declined to comment on why he was fired. The school also refused to answer DNAinfo‘s questions about whether it discriminates against gay people as a general policy.

Tedeschi is currently considering his legal options, which may be limited because his position involved religious instruction.

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