This is in response to “A school’s purpose” [Viewpoints, Aug. 23]

Dear OPRF High School:

Courageous conversations are uncomfortable to have. Will you have this one? A 26-year veteran OPRF AP Art History teacher just retired in June. Last week that same teacher felt the need to inform our community that the culture and climate inside the building is stifling for many. He used the word “fear” to describe the feeling of openly sharing one’s thoughts. This teacher could have quietly walked away and enjoyed his retirement and the relationships he built pursuing his life’s work. Instead, he felt compelled to speak up for the benefit of our students, surely risking some friendships. He describes the current OPRF culture this way:

“Teachers, students, and staff are expected to take sides about what to do. Although many choose to openly state their thoughts, many others choose not to for fear of being labeled or ostracized. What happens? Voices go silent, a troubling irony considering that, of all our public institutions, schools should be a go-to location in which the open exchange of ideas is both guaranteed and freely practiced.”

Those who follow OPRF know that the board and administration are very much aligned. Yet we now know that at least one teacher has a different viewpoint. Are there more who feel there is an unhealthy culture emerging, a culture that unfortunately does not value open and independent thought? Where can teachers go to express their concerns? Not to the board. Not to the administration. Are teachers allowed to speak to reporters?

One must wonder why a 26-year veteran teacher did not feel comfortable sharing this prior to retirement. Was it fear of being “labeled or ostracized”? Or was he concerned about diminished career opportunities? Do current practices and policies, implicitly or explicitly, restrict teachers from speaking up? This teacher would not have written such a thoughtful article, inclusive of ideas on how to help, if he did not care about our student and community. We should all thank him.

A few questions and ideas for our high school board and the community to consider:

•      Will OPRF support a PTO where Parents and Teachers partner together, uninhibited by administrative or board member influence?

•      Will the OPRF Board publicly discuss this teacher’s opinion piece regarding the emerging culture of “fear of being labeled or ostracized”?

•      Will OPRF trust current teachers enough to allow them to even talk with local reporters?

•      Will the board encourage the Culture Climate and Behavior Committee to engage with current or former teachers to learn more? Teachers are supposed to be on this committee by statute.

OPRF High School is a wonderfully unique and special school. However, it will only remain so if thoughts and ideas can freely be expressed, challenged, and discussed, even when unpopular.

So, OPRF, will you have this courageous conversation?

I am not holding my breath.

Go Huskies.

Ross Lissuzzo is an Oak Park native and current River Forest resident.    

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