Parents pack meeting to protest school board member's misogynistic tweets
A Northwest suburban school member resigned Monday after a series of offensive tweets about the weekend's Women's March, including one labeling participants "vagina screechers" and another saying the demonstration was a reason to eliminate women's voting rights.
Dathan Paterno, a member of the Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 board, deleted his Twitter account after posting the tweets. He resigned in a letter apologizing for the remarks and stating they were "misinterpreted."
"On Sunday, January 22, 2017, my posts on my personal Twitter account unwittingly spilled into my role on the Board," the resignation letter states. "I wrote some provocative tweets re: the recent women's marches. In retrospect, they were inappropriate and pushed too far in some ways. While I merely meant to harshly criticize some of the protesters (especially the very angry, hostile, vulgar, and violent ones) and question the motives of some of them, my tweets were understandably misinterpreted to mean that I disrespect or hate all the protesters. Of course, this isn't true, but the damage was done."
Paterno, a psychologist in Park Ridge, did not return a phone call for comment.
Paterno's tweets sent a shock wave through the district community and Monday night's school board meeting was packed with parents.
Ginger Pennington, one of the several people who spoke against Paterno's words, said both her children were with her at the Women's March in Washington. That drew a round of applause from the parents.
"It was a very inspirational, uplifting experience," Pennington said. "You can't imagine the degree of my disgust and surprise to see that our own school board member was essentially calling me and my children 'vagina screechers.'"
The tweet Pennington was referencing said, "Most of these vagina screechers didn't vote, but they mean business. Riiiiiiiight. What a farce."
Another of Paterno's tweets suggested women shouldn't be allowed to vote.
"Alas, the 300 Million Pound Women March provides a strong argument for doing away with women's suffrage," Paterno tweeted.
Another suggested renaming the march the "Procession of Palpable Penis Envy."
Paterno apologized again in an interview with Fox 32 News and said he loves women and believes they are equal to men "in every value judgment."
Board President Anthony Borrelli distanced the board from Paterno's statements and said they would look into changing their policies so something like this doesn't happen again.
"While unfortunate, we should take the time to learn and reinforce our ideas of respect and civility," Borrelli said Monday night before public comment. "These are qualities that we teach our children and qualities that we should retain as adults."
Paterno has come under fire for controversial tweets in the past. Blogger Fred Klonsky, a retired teacher from Chicago who writes about education issues, has cataloged several statements he's attributed to Paterno's Twitter and Facebook accounts, including anti-Muslim statements, claims Christians who support abortion rights are "hailing Satan," and frequent criticisms of the Obama administration.
District parent Stacy Kelly said she found it hard to believe that the other members of the board weren't aware of Paterno's online behavior before his tweets over the weekend and called for an independent review of the board so the behavior will no longer go unchecked.
"If you are neutral in the face of injustice you are choosing the side of the aggressor," Kelly said.
Perhaps the most dramatic moment during the almost hourlong public comment came when board member Athan Sotos interrupted district parent Daisy Bowe because she, like several other speakers, used the word "vagina" in her remarks. Sotos said he denounced Paterno's use of the word and he didn't want to have to explain to his children why people at the board meeting also used the word.
The crowd shouted down Sotos' interjections. And when he continued to talk over Bowe, Superintendent Laurie Heinz asked Sotos to stop talking because public comment was not meant to be a dialogue between the public and the board.
A few speakers later, district parent Sarah Nugent told Sotos that what was objectionable about Paterno's tweets was not his use of the word "vagina" but his saying he didn't like it when women spoke up for their rights.
After public comment ended Monday night, Heinz said she appreciated so many coming to the meeting and asked them to remember the good that the district does.
"We will not let this incident define the school, the staff, or the district because we deserve better," Heinz said, her voice cracking with emotion.
Borrelli said in the coming days the board will put application materials for the now-vacant seat on the school board on the district's website.
Paterno is the founder and clinical director at Park Ridge Psychological Services, according to the provider's website. He worked with kids as a staff counselor at Lutheran General Hospital for several years in the child and adolescent psychiatry unit, according to the website. He's also the author of parenting book "Desperately Seeking Parents."
Paterno describes his philosophy on the provider's website.
"Dr. Paterno affirms that all people are biological, social, and spiritual beings. He believes that all of these are relevant in assessing and responding to a person's struggles," according to a section of the website describing his philosophy. "To ignore any of these facets of the personality, then, would be to ignore an essential facet of a person's being, functioning, and suffering," the website states.
Paterno's term was set to expire and he was not running for re-election, so whoever replaces him likely won't be in his old seat for more than a handful of board meetings before the April election.