Wildwood principal retires following concerns about police comments made by guest speaker
by BRIAN NADIG
Wildwood School principal Dr. Mary Beth Cunat abruptly retired this week.
Cunat’s retirement on June 6 comes days after complaints from parents that a guest speaker at the school’s "Career Day" uses derogatory and threatening statements about police on social media.
In a June 6 letter to the school community, Cunat said that she was retiring due to a "combination of my health, my beautiful new twin granddaughters and less demanding but very compelling opportunities." The letter did not mention the school’s recent career day.
Cunat, who became Wildwood’s principal 8 years ago, issued an apology to parents on June 1, a week after Ethan Ethos, who describes himself as a "vocalist, organizer and abolitionist" on Facebook spoke at the school on May 25.
His Facebook page includes the term "CPDK," which is an acronym for "Chicago Police Department Killer" and also uses a profane hip-hop slang term against the police.
During his talk at the school, Ethos reportedly said that the police had killed his friend or friends. The Wildwood community is known to have a significant number of police officers and other first responders living there, and many of their children attend the school.
In her letter to parents, Cunat said the following: "I recently invited a speaker for ‘Career Day’ who I asked to share his experiences as a teenager and how he became engaged in civic work through gardening, poetry and music. My goal was for students to hear from a young man who pursued opportunities in high school and college that forged his career path.
"I was present when his narrative took a negative turn about policing, at which point I immediately intervened and redirected the conversation back to the original goal of the presentation.
"I care about your children and would never intentionally expose them to or endorse this type of negativity."
Cunat also said that she was unaware of Ethos’ comments on social media and that she takes "full responsibility" for the incident, adding that no school funds were used to pay for his presentation.
"When he was asked for his Twitter handle by a teacher, it was to hear more of his music and poetry," she said.
Five days after the apology from Cunat, she announced her retirement in a brief statement which was posted on the school’s Web site.
"It is with a sad and happy heart I say good-bye. I could not bear to do it in person as my heart was breaking with love, joy and appreciation for each and ever one of you as I looked at your faces today.
"It is time for me to go, but you are in good hands and the school is positive and strong. I am so glad you were part of my story and thankful I got to be part of yours, even for a little while," Cunat said.
The Wildwood School Local School Council will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 12.
Former Bell School principal Robert Guercio was named the school’s administrator in charge as the local school council searches for Cunat’s replacement.
The council awarded Cunat a new 4-year contract earlier this year. Wildwood, which features an international baccalaureate curriculum in all classes, is considered one of the top-performing neighborhood schools in the city.
The school held a meeting for parents only on April 4 reviewing a class titled "Reparations Won: A Case Study in Police Torture, Racism and the Movement for Justice in Chicago. The Chicago Public Schools made the class a requirement last year in response to the case of former Chicago Police Department commander Jon Burge, who was convicted of lying about torturing suspects from the 1970s to the 1990s to coerce confessions.
CPS announced last year that the course would be taught after the city passed a $5.5 million reparations package for torture victims that included a requirement for a class on the torture cases to be included in the existing history curriculum.
Media was not allowed at the April 4 meeting.