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Illinois teacher fired over anti-riot comments says colleagues 'terrified' for free speech

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

by Charles Creitz, Fox News

An Illinois teacher whose school board voted 5-2 to terminate her over a social media post decrying the George Floyd riots in nearby Chicago told Fox News on Thursday she is not guilty of their alleged accusation the comments "harm[ed] students," as her attorney wondered aloud how many other educators are having their profiles secretly monitored by school boards or unions.

While on vacation in the U.S. Southeast over Memorial Day 2020, Jeanne Hedgepeth publicly lamented news coverage of the rioting and criminal behavior in downtown Chicago as stores were looted and property vandalized in response to the death of George Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis whose killer, Officer Derek Chauvin, was later convicted of murder.

"I don't want to go home tomorrow. Now that the Civil War has begun, I want to move," Hedgepeth wrote in a caption to a beach photo – the day before she was to return home to the Schaumburg, Ill., area where School District 211 is located.

Judicial Watch, a Washington-based government accountability advocacy group, filed a lawsuit naming the district as well as HR Director James Britton, and school board members Edward Yung, Anna Klimkowicz, Kimberly Cavill, Robert Lefevre Jr., Steven Rosenblum and Superintendent Lisa Small as defendants.

Hedgepeth told the "Ingraham Angle" she thought her comments were noncontroversial until a subsequent social media discussion in which a critic accused her of being blinded to the rioters' plight because of her "White privilege."

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"I have worked for the district for 20 years. I took pride in my work. I loved my job and students. I am the sole supporter of my daughter. I was really upset about the rioting," she told host Laura Ingraham.

"Protesting we need more, but rioting: none. People were supporting [the rioting and] it was freaking me out. I made a few comments. I had a conversation with a young lady who told me to shut up with my White privilege."

That discussion, she said, upset numerous others who observed her profile.

She reiterated her denial of claims she is racist for denouncing the riots and her objection to being accused of White privilege:

"I might have more conservative views but there is nothing racist about what I said. Of course, I am being accused of being a racist which I have no history of whatsoever," she said.

Erin Holmes, the communications director for School District 211, responded to "The Ingraham Angle"'s request for comment by saying she is aware of Hedgepeth's lawsuit:

"At this point, it is a legal issue and we as a district cannot comment on any details," Holmes told the program.

Later in the interview, Hedgepeth's attorney, Christine Svenson, said the Chicago riots were indeed "crazy" and that her client was rightfully "terrified as an American citizen" and an Illinois resident.

"She teaches a diversity of opinion in her classes. The board found she was harming students and talking about racial issues… I wonder this: Are they going through the social media posts of all of the other teachers?" Svenson asked.

Hedgepeth added that two now-former colleagues, who are apparently the only ones she is still in contact with, are "terrified" by her case.

"They are scared. Everyone is scared," she said.

Hedgepeth also disclosed that she had tried for months to retain legal counsel but that no one would take her case.

She compared it to how President Trump continued to see personal attorneys like Rudolph Giuliani "demonized."

"I called many lawyers and many people don't want to touch it – Even Trump's lawyers got demonized. It's OK if you are a murderer but you can't defend a teacher?"

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