CHICAGO — Leaders at St. Ignatius College Prep say the firing of a religion teacher who was "outed" by students at the school was not related to his sexual orientation.
The statement comes as St. Ignatius alumni react to the firing of teacher Matt Tedeschi, whose students found out was gay, "outed" him to the rest of the school and went on to harass him about his sexual orientation in the classroom and on social media. Tedeschi contends that the prominent Catholic school fired him because his sexual orientation conflicts with some Catholic teachings and the incident — and ensuing gossip — embarrassed top leaders at the elite Catholic school.
In a statement issued to faculty and staff Thursday, school leaders wrote that Tedeschi was not fired for his sexual orientation.
"While we cannot share details of Matt Tedeschi's term of employment, it is important for you to know that he was not fired for his sexual orientation," the statement read. Citing confidentiality and legal concerns, St. Ignatius spokesman Ryan Bergin declined to say why Tedeschi was fired.
In response, Tedeschi again reiterated that he believes he was fired because his sexual orientation "became a problem" for the school. Tedeschi contends he received positive reviews from the school's leaders in his four years at St. Ignatius, and his employee file contained no disciplinary complaints.
"I was fired for asking the administration to protect me from student harassment leveled against me precisely on the basis of my sexual orientation," Tedeschi wrote in a statement.
He said the students that harassed him weren't properly punished, empowering them "to engage in further harassment."
"I may not have been fired solely 'for' my sexual orientation, as the school writes, but I certainly was fired 'because of' it," he continued.
News of the teacher's firing garnered a strong reaction from St. Ignatius alumni and students Thursday.
Jessica Schneider, a Chicago attorney who graduated from St. Ignatius in 2001, launched the Facebook group "SICP alumni in opposition to Tedeschi firing" in protest Thursday. By late Friday, more than 850 former students were added to the group.
Schneider said she was "very disappointed" by the school's handling of the situation. The incident "isn't aligned" with the values she was taught at Ignatius, she said.
"The school doesn't seem to be able to have open discussions," said Schneider, who works for the non-profit Chicago Lawyers' Committee For Civil Rights.
With 2001 grad Kate Connelly Brice, Schneider plans to draft a letter to the administration addressing the issue and calling for more transparency.
"I know that there are certain things that can't be disclosed, but the reaction [from administrators] isn't sufficient for the incident," Schneider said.
Christian Johns, a 2016 graduate who with others raised questions about the "serious racial problems" at the private school last year, said that while the school does have some "openly" gay teachers, Tedeschi's firing is troubling because he was "arguably one of the best rookie teachers at Ignatius."
"He was difficult, to a pain at times, but it is no excuse for the way he was treated," said Johns, who now attends Colgate University in New York. "Granted, the details are still murky, it is clear that the administration at Ignatius fails to get ahead of crises that could be handled with professional zest. The administration, community, and students have to do better so that Ignatius remains an incredible place to learn and grow."
Andrew Rayner, a 2006 graduate who is now openly gay, wrote on his blog that while St. Ignatius employed an openly gay teacher at the time he was in school, the culture around homosexuality at the school was "virulent."
"I will never fully know or be able to quantify it, and I am not blaming the school for the ills of society at large, but I do wonder what role St. Ignatius played in keeping me in the closet for so long," he wrote. " ... Who I am worried about is the student like me who is walking the halls of St. Ignatius feeling even less supported and loved than they felt before because of this incident."
Other alumni and current students reacted on Twitter.
I'm just genuinely really upset with the way teachers are treated as a whole. They aren't given enough credit for everything they do for us.— Maeve Wolff (@MaeveW01) May 18, 2017
i hope all of you who thought it was funny to out/exploit mr. t in a group chat can take away something from this https://t.co/2tY8fLG8lS— erica (@escalise9) May 18, 2017
St. Ignatius boasts a number of high-profile alumni, including actress Gina Rodriguez, comedian Bob Newhart, Ariel Investments President Mellody Hobson, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, and ESPN commentator Michael Wilbon.
A private, coed Jesuit high school on the city's Near West Side, St. Ignatius College Prep was founded in 1869.