An elite Chicago private school tightened security and disabled its Twitter and Facebook accounts after a video of its dean of students secretly recorded by a conservative group went viral on Wednesday.
The video captures the dean talking last week about a visit to Francis W. Parker School by an LGBTQ health organization to discuss queer sexual health with high schoolers. The discussion involved showing students two sex toys, the dean said. The video of that conversation was edited by the right-wing group before it was posted.
Parker leaders sent a letter to the school community late Wednesday saying “we are heartbroken that one of our colleague’s words have been severely misrepresented for a malicious purpose.” The letter offered strong support for their faculty and staff and for the school’s “inclusive, LGBTQ+ affirming, and comprehensive approach to sex education.”
The school said the local alderman helped it expand the police presence around its Lincoln Park campus, and it has implemented higher security measures. At least one person marched in front of the school on Thursday to protest the school’s sex ed curriculum.
Project Veritas, the New York-based right-wing organization that made the video, claims on its website that it is “creating an army of guerilla journalists.” Its operatives assume fake identities and secretly record conversations, often attempting to shame or discredit progressive organizations and media outlets, including NPR.
The video footage was captured by an operative who presented himself as an attendee at the National Association of Independent Schools conference last week, according to Parker officials.
The operative recorded himself talking to Joseph Bruno, Parker’s dean of students. In the video, Bruno described an event during the school’s annual Pride Week last May. During an optional lunchtime session for high schoolers, educators from Howard Brown Health presented a lesson on queer sexual health that included showing sex toys to students. Bruno also mentioned a story time and photo-op with a drag queen. The video does not mention that both events were optional.
The video, which had been viewed nearly 5 million times as of Friday morning, has made its way around right-wing media accounts and news sites. #ExposeGroomers trended today on Twitter, and Fox News picked up the story this morning.
Project Veritas posted a second video showing founder James O’Keefe attempting to confront Bruno Wednesday afternoon on Parker’s campus. Bruno walks away from O’Keefe and his cameraman. O’Keefe then asks parents if they’re aware the school is “giving sex toys to children” in a voice loud enough for nearby elementary school age students to hear. He is asked to leave by a parent volunteer.
Targets of previous Project Veritas undercover video projects have included educators and teachers unions. The American Federation of Teachers in 2018 posted about a “heavily-spliced” Project Veritas video that misrepresented the union’s response to an accusation of teacher misconduct.
This latest campaign is part of a trend of online right-wing attacks against LGBTQ+ books and events for children that have sometimes led to threats and violence. Earlier this month an independent school in suburban Clintonville, Ohio, canceled a drag queen story time event after a post on the right-wing Twitter account LibsofTikTok inspired the Proud Boys, a militia group, to plan an armed rally outside the school.
Parker leaders said in their letter that they “are sickened by this group’s deceptive tactics, their invasion during a People of Color conference, and their attack on the LGBTQ+ community” and offered strong support for the dean.
“Parker administrators and Parker’s Board of Trustees support Parker’s programming, the strength and inclusivity of our curriculum, and the dedicated and talented faculty and staff that teach it.”
The school is offering mental health check-ins to students and held an assembly Thursday to discuss the news.
The story has been updated to make clear that Parker School officials are the source behind this statement: The video footage was captured by an operative who presented himself as an attendee at the National Association of Independent Schools conference last week.