Lisle student prompts District 202 probe into teaching assistant's remarks about Muslims, more

Lisle Unit District 202 school officials are investigating claims that a high school teaching assistant made racist and other offensive remarks during a recent class.

Lisle High School sophomore Zoya Shaik spoke at Monday's school board meeting and complained that during an Oct. 12 health class the unidentified staff member made offensive and profanity-laced statements about Muslims, immigrants and Indigenous people for 25 minutes.

Shaik said she wants the district to develop and implement clear guidelines about bullying and harassment that apply to staff members as well as students.

"No one knew how to say anything because we were all really unprepared," Shaik said. "We don't have a bullying program and we don't know how to handle this stuff."

Shaik, an Indian Muslim who said she began wearing a hijab a week before the incident, said the remarks were made while Shaik was speaking to a fellow student about ideas for Culture Day at the high school. Shaik said the teaching assistant told her background checks are needed on "your people" and also talked about immigration and the need for deportations.

"I definitely felt singled out," Shaik said. "There were a lot of kids that were ... you could see how shocked they were in the classroom. It's the last thing you would expect in a classroom."

Former students and parents also spoke at Monday's meeting about ongoing issues with bullying and harassment at the school not being addressed by administrators.

Board President Daniel Helderle promised an investigation during the meeting. Superintendent Keith Filipiak, who sent a letter Tuesday to district families about the incident, encouraged others to come forward if they have similar complaints.

"That's unacceptable what I'm hearing here," Helderle said. "The goal of the district is to have a healthy and safe and nurturing environment. Doesn't sound like it from what you've been saying."

District 202 Communications Coordinator Jenna Engler issued a statement regarding Monday's meeting, saying Shaik's complaints continue to be investigated and the district's administrative team is in contact with the parents and students who voiced concerns at Monday's meeting.

Engler said the staff member involved in the complaint has not worked in the district since the incident occurred. She said no further details could be shared because of legal and privacy issues.

School board member Pam Ahlmann pointed to the current policy on bullying and harassment outlined in the district handbook, saying staff members fall under those policies. Filipiak, however, acknowledged the district needs to do a better job of implementing the policies.

"I'm sorry we got to this point, but we're committed to learning and improving," Filipiak said at Monday's meeting.

Shaik said she met with Lisle Principal Jeff Howard and Vice Principal Jen Zimmerman twice in the days after the incident. The second meeting also included Shaik's mother, Lisle Village Trustee Sara Sadat. Engler said the staff member's "unavailability has prevented completion of our investigation."

"I definitely don't want this to happen again," Shaik said. "I have two younger siblings and there's a lot more kids that are going to come after I graduate."

• Daily Herald staff writer Jake Griffin contributed to this report.

  Lisle Unit District 202 school board members said they will investigate claims of racism made by a student Monday against a teacher during a recent class. Rick West/, May 2018
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