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Francis W. Parker School in Lincoln Park offered strong support for their faculty and staff and for the school’s “inclusive, LGBTQ+ affirming, and comprehensive approach to sex education.”

Francis W. Parker School in Lincoln Park offered strong support for their faculty and staff and for the school’s “inclusive, LGBTQ+ affirming, and comprehensive approach to sex education.”

Ashlee Rezin

Francis Parker evacuated due to bomb threat days after right-wing attacks on sex ed program

Students and staff at the Francis W. Parker School evacuated their building Monday because of what turned out to be an unsubstantiated bomb threat just days after a far-right group publicized a covertly recorded video of the school’s dean discussing sexual education classes.

The elite Chicago private school in Lincoln Park was targeted with an emailed threat that warned a bomb would be placed on the school grounds, Chicago police said. Francis Parker’s security team found the threat “originated from out of the country,” officials said.

Officers responded to the school at 330 W. Webster Ave. about 11:30 a.m., and the rest of the school day was canceled with students evacuated nearby for parent pickup. All athletics and extracurriculars were also called off.

A few parents and students filed in and out of the school late Monday afternoon to pick up leftover belongings. A Chicago police squad car was parked outside, and a member of the school’s security staff stood out front. Several parents declined to discuss the threat or the newfound attention on the school over the past few days.

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our community, and we take every precaution to protect them. We regret this unfortunate disruption,” administrators emailed parents.

“After an extensive search by the authorities, we write to let you know that the campus has been cleared by the Chicago Police Department. Our campus is safe.”

Police officials couldn’t say whether the threat Monday referenced the viral video published by the far-right group Project Veritas last week.

The New York-based Project Veritas is best known for producing highly edited, undercover videos targeting progressive groups and media outlets for supposed misdeeds. The group and its founder, controversial activist James O’Keefe, were banned from Twitter in 2021 for repeated violations of the platform’s rules.

But the social media company recently reactivated Project Veritas’ account, and the group last Thursday published a video of an undercover operative talking to Joseph Bruno, Francis Parker’s dean of students. Bruno is seen in the video describing an optional lesson held at the school by educators from Howard Brown Health about queer sexual health and the use of sex toys. Bruno went on to mention a photo-op with a drag queen.

The video — which was edited and does not mention the sessions were optional for students — has been viewed millions of times and was picked up by right-wing media including Fox News. #ExposeGroomers trended last week on Twitter, continuing the trend of right-wing groups falsely attacking sexual health educators and queer-identifying people as pedophiles.

The Project Veritas sting has been promoted by both the local Proud Boys chapter and Awake Illinois, a group that has advocated against the teaching of critical race theory and COVID-19 mask mandates in schools. Shortly after Monday’s bomb threat, Bruno’s phone number and email address were posted to a Proud Boys channel on the Telegram messaging app.

The video targeting the Francis W. Parker School comes amid a wave of attacks against LGBTQ+ events across the country, including in the Chicago area.

In July, a bakery in suburban Lake in the Hills was vandalized and faced threats and harassment over its planned “Starry Night Drag Brunch.” Members of the Proud Boys’ Northern Illinois chapter promoted a protest against the drag brunch with Awake Illinois.

Using language popular among adherents of the unfounded and sprawling QAnon conspiracy — which centers on an alleged cabal of Satanic sexual abusers operating a massive child sex trafficking ring — critics have claimed kid-friendly drag shows across the country are a tool for “grooming” children for sex.

Libraries, schools and other community events have had to cancel events and take extra security precautions in the wake of those threats.

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