Student gets religious accommodation to high school's sex ed requirement

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A public high school in Illinois has approved a student’s request for a religious exemption from a required sexuality program after a national legal group voiced concern that the student faced the threat of possible discipline for her refusal to take part in the program.

The First Liberty Institute announced Thursday that senior Marcail McBride's parents are satisfied with the offer from administrators at Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora for their daughter to complete an alternate assignment instead of participating in the school’s Student Gender and Sexuality Program.

In a statement, the legal group said that the academy “reversed its position and approved senior Marcail McBride’s request for a religious accommodation.”

“We are grateful to President [José] Torres and school officials at IMSA for following the law by granting our client an accommodation,” First Liberty Institute Counsel Keisha Russell said in a statement. 

“Schools should respect the religious beliefs of their students. Marcail and her parents are pleased that she will not be punished for acting according to her conscience.” 

On Tuesday, Russell sent a letter to Torres urging the IMSA to grant McBride an accommodation from the requirement that students participate in the program that the family felt contradicted their religious beliefs on sexuality and gender identity.  

In the letter, Russell claimed that the family first submitted a written request for their daughter to be excused from the program in November. The program, he said, forced the student “to participate in activities and discussions regarding human sexuality that require, pressure, or coerce her to violate her religious principles.”

“The program thus does not respect differing religious beliefs about gender and sexuality and pressures students to affirmatively signal their agreement with the curriculum,” Russell argued. 

The program "classifies anyone who believes homosexuality is sinful or immoral as being in the same category as those who are repulsed by it or think it is 'crazy.' It also rewards students who affirm the program's teachings with “SafeZone” stickers and pins and calls them an "ally." 

The legal group reported that Associate Director of Student Affairs, Chief Hearing Officer Dana Ginnett sent an email ordering McBride to complete the program by Jan. 30 or face disciplinary action. Ginnett allegedly cited a school policy requiring students to “attend all required assemblies and meetings of a non-academic nature.”  

On Monday, the student was reportedly informed that the IMSA Student Affairs Department would conduct a disciplinary hearing this week. The next day, First Liberty Institute intervened by sending Russell’s demand letter to Torres. 

Tami Armstrong, head of the school’s public affairs office, told CP on Tuesday that the school had reached out to the student's parents “and offered an alternative solution that will resolve this matter.” 

She again confirmed Wednesday that the school had provided accommodations to the school’s diversity and education requirements for the student. 

First Liberty Institute Director of Communications Chris Freund told CP Wednesday that instead of participating in the program, McBride will have to write a “brief essay on creating a safe environment at school for all students.” 

“We take these matters seriously, and will use this as an opportunity to review all of our practices and ensure that our students feel safe and welcomed at IMSA," the school assured in a formal statement. 

"IMSA embraces an inclusive environment where all students feel supported and are extended a sense of belonging regardless of race, class, gender, religion, accessibility, and socioeconomic status identity.”

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