Highland Park, News

School Board president steps down after email criticizing Deerfield teacher

Teacher on leave following online abuse, say parents

The School Board president of Township High School District 113 has resigned following public scrutiny over the board’s response to a teacher’s social-media activity.

Daniel Struck, who was in the second year of his second term on the D113 Board of Education, submitted his resignation on Feb. 7. Newly appointed Board President Anne Neumann announced the resignation during a special School Board meeting on Feb. 12.

The resignation came a day after Struck was publicly criticized for an email sent to district families on Dec. 14, 2023 that condemned social-media content from a Deerfield High School teacher. The message, which was signed by Struck, preceded a loud reaction online in which the teacher was identified and reportedly shamed and even threatened.

Struck told The Record that after the Feb. 6 board meeting when he was criticized that he felt like a distraction and that “it was time to go.” He added that his decision was not influenced by his fellow board members or the district’s administration.

“When there’s a board meeting where I am the focus of attention, it should be the kids,” he said.

Following the announcement of Struck’s resignation on Feb. 12, Rich Ruscitti addressed the board members, expressing gratitude for the change in leadership. Ruscitti is the father of the Deerfield High School teacher who came under attack for her social media activity.

“This is what we feel is an initial step in recovery for all,” Ruscitti said on Feb. 12. “I think everybody has to recover from this situation. … I personally couldn’t be any happier in what the move was. … I don’t wish anyone’s child to go through this.”

Struck denied that he resigned because of any wrongdoing; however, the board on Feb. 14 sent an email to district families saying that “messages, including those sent unilaterally by board leadership, that unfairly malign and disparage any member of our District 113 community, are not condoned by us and do not foster the safe educational environment that we strive to provide.” 

The DHS teacher in question reportedly took a leave of absence in the wake of the online abuse. The leave was not initiated by District 113, according to Karen Warner, the district’s communications director.

During the Feb. 12 session, Neumann thanked Struck for his service and praised him for his efforts while the district navigated the challenges of COVID-19 and in the aftermath of the 2022 Highland Park shooting.

Struck, of Highland Park, was elected to the board of education in 2019 and re-elected in 2023, when he become board president.

The School Board is now searching for a new board member and opened online applications last week. The deadline for applications is 3 p.m. on March 1.

A teacher’s Instagram, an email and the consequences

In the aftermath of Hamas’ surprise and deadly attack on Israel Oct. 7, a Deerfield High School teacher reportedly shared content on Instagram that Struck wrote on Dec. 14 “implicitly disparages the personal beliefs and human decency of a substantial portion of our student body.”

The content was deleted by the teacher, whom The Record is choosing not to identify, but according to residents familiar with the situation, the teacher shared a post from Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, an author and historian of race and civil rights. Through his social media accounts, Kendi has criticized certain violent action of Israeli forces in Gaza and the West Bank ; however, The Record could not confirm which message the teacher shared.

While not identifying the teacher, the email says that the teacher’s social-media share was dangerous to the district’s student population and implied the district was considering disciplining the teacher.

Struck said that while his name was on the email, he did not send it independently and it was created in alignment with the board’s policy for when the board president releases a commitywide email.

“While we cannot comment on the status of ongoing personnel matters, we are taking this very seriously. We will not tolerate statements and actions that cause harm to our students,” Struck’s email reads.

From there, the issue was introduced in social media circles, such as within local Facebook groups, where the teacher and students who defended the teacher reportedly were verbally attacked. And then, according to parents who spoke Feb. 6, the intimidation moved into the real-world and inside the school building.

Lena Goretsky Winters, a DHS parent, was one of a handful of speakers at the Feb. 6 meeting and said Struck’s email “divided our community and it hurt our children.” Winters told the board a group of parents went to the police following threats made against some DHS parents.

“All of that is happening in our mostly Jewish community because the board felt compelled to make its political view known and that has harmed our children,” Winters said.

During the Feb. 6 meeting, Debbie Ruscitti, the mother of the teacher who shared the post, told the board and the community about her family’s Jewish upbringing.

Ruscitti told district leaders that they were complicit in the bullying and harassment of the teacher and her students.

“You’ve allowed parents to continue to bully her; parents who today are outwardly making rude comments on social media about her mental health,” she said, adding, “Never in my 68 years of life have I been met with this kind of hatred. Never would I have warned (my daughter) about people of her own faith accusing her of being antisemitic.”

Struck told The Record that a social media reaction was not anticipated.

“I feel sorry that was the case,” he said.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

martin carlino
Martin Carlino

Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.

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