Chicago teacher taking indefinite leave of absence following Nazi propaganda assignment
A teacher who had assigned eighth graders to create Nazi propaganda posters as part of a Holocaust education unit, prompting complaints from the lone Jewish student in the class and her mother, is taking an “indefinite leave of absence,” according to a letter from the school’s principal.
The social studies teacher, Tiffanie Reschke, had written a letter of apology to the student, Gladys Shelby, weeks after the incident and eight days after the Forward published an articleabout the assignment and the student’s complaint. “I am sincerely sorry that I upset Gladys,” she wrote, according to a copy of the letter shared by Gladys’s mother, Scarlett Herrin. “I have spent a lot of time reflecting on ways to improve.”
School district officials had also met with the teacher and Herrin, along with the district’s equity office, to discuss curriculum changes.
But on Friday, the principal of the north side school, Eliza Chappell Elementary, sent a letter to eighth-grade parents saying Reschke would not return to the classroom after this week’s spring break, though it did not specify whether the leave would be paid or unpaid, and whether it was Reschke’s choice or the school’s requirement.
“We anticipate she will return to us before the end of the school year,” wrote the principal, Joseph Peila, “although the exact date of her return has yet to be determined.”
A spokesperson for the district said Tuesday that Reschke remained employed by the district, but declined further comment.
Peila did not respond to an inquiry on Monday.
Reschke, whose LinkedIn profile says that she has been teaching in Chicago’s public schools since 2013, also has not responded to repeated requests for interviews via LinkedIn and email.
Herrin said publicity about the incident had made social interactions between Gladys and her classmates strained, and that she is thinking of pulling her daughter out of the school – which is on Chicago’s north side, near Lincoln Square – to finish the year with online classes.
“I am honestly so angry about this endless victim-blaming,” Herrin said in a text message on Thursday. “At this point we are so angry at their inability to keep our child somewhat protected,” she wrote.
Gladys and Herrin said in previous interviews that the propaganda assignment was part of a troubling Holocaust unit that included reading an excerpt from “Mein Kampf” and answering questions about it. Then on Feb. 24, the students were asked to work in small groups to create Nazi propaganda posters, Gladys said, and when she complained, Reschke said she must not have understood the assignment, and did not have to include swastikas.
Initially, Gladys and Herrin said, many in the class supported her. At least two said that they also were appalled by the assignment.
But tension mounted as Herrin pressed for an apology that the teacher took more than two weeks to offer, amid publicity triggered by the Forward article. Classmates have told Gladys that Reschke was crying in class and that she had told her students that she had received death threats.
In a group chat, one student texted: “I hope u know everyone knows abt the article and is pissed it’s being spread around the whole school, she is getting her life ruined over this.”
After that text, Herrin kept Gladys out of school for a week.
But Gladys has also received some support from other Chicago students, including an email from a high schooler who said she was right to complain and that she was not alone – other Jewish students in the city supported her.
“Even if everyone spits in my face,” Herrin quoted her daughter as saying, “I’m glad I did it because it might help another kid speak out who may have been afraid.”
Correction: The original version of this article and its headline incorrectly stated that the teacher who assigned students to make Nazi propaganda posters had been fired. She has been placed on an “indefinite leave of absence.”