Illinois Math and Science Academy uses “bias response system;” requires staff member to attend “coaching session around gender and sexuality, as well as appropriate use of pronouns”


Emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request give an inside look into Illinois Math and Science Academy’s (IMSA) bias incident reporting system. The documents show how staff use the system themselves to solve professional and personal conflict with fellow staff members. The emails also reveal that despite teachers being found not guilty of any bias incidents, they are still subjected to consequences often due to not being “inclusive” enough.

IMSA defines a bias incident as “incidents of bias and hate affecting a person or group create a hostile climate and negatively impact the quality of the IMSA experience for community members.” Reports are accepted “anonymously or confidentially” and students can report biases related to “race,” “color,” “gender,” “sex,” “Disruption to the Community (Offensive Comment or slur, Name Calling, Offensive Visual Representation,” and “microaggressions.”

In a May 6, 2022 email response to a parent about bias responses, the school’s Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) states that a “hate or ‘bias-related’ incident is an act that demonstrates prejudice against the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, religion, ability and/or political affiliation.”

The director goes on to describe the “Bias Incident Investigation Process” which involves the incident being “sent to and reviewed by the Associate Director of Student Affairs to determine the appropriate course of action” and “any incident involving staff, including faculty, will be reviewed by the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to determine and implement the appropriate course of action.” The email also walks through the “course of action” and “formal investigation process.”

On October 31, 2022, Director of DEI Adrienne Coleman herself filed a bias incident report that claims “16 years” of bias in which “race” and “microaggressions” are listed as the primary types. Coleman states in the almost two-page list of grievances that “It is sometimes difficult to be a Black person at IMSA.” She also writes that “being told that a Black and Latino faculty/staff group that convened to academically and socially-emotionally support Black/Latino student must disband” and “constantly having to defend diversity, equity, and inclusion work” is “exhausting and sometimes traumatic.”

Coleman states that the list is a “written to document the racism, racial violence, and racial microaggressions” that she has “had to confront” during her “sixteen year [sic] tenure at the Illinois Math and Science Academy.” She includes as evidence “being asked why Black and Latino students do not engage in SIR [Student Inquiry and Research],” “being referred to as incompetent, along with Black and Latino leadership in engagement survey and program evaluations,” “being told that someone said they were tired of me throwing my Blackness in their face,” and finding IMSA leadership’s use of “rap” as “culturally insensitive and appeared to be mocking Black culture.”

Below is a collection of emails specifically related to bias incidents. These emails show how administrators deal with reports of bias, which includes mandatory trainings, tests and reflections, and equity coaching.

On May 11, 2023, Adrienne Coleman, the school’s Director of DEI /Title IX Coordinator informed a teacher that the bias investigation launched against them revealed “no evidence of bias, but rather a lack of inclusion.” The email cites the school’s Equity and Excellence Policy’s definition of inclusion as being violated by the faculty member.

The director states that “several students have confirmed feeling uncomfortable in your class due to examples used in teaching and learning, comments made about mental health, and other interactions in which they felt a violation of physical space, which led them to feel unsafe.”

As a result, the teacher was “expected to engage” in a list of actions to improve their “inclusive teaching practices.”

On September 11, 2023, Coleman sent a follow up email to the teacher with an update on the bias investigation outcomes and to notify them that the school’s Equity Instructional Coach would be “conducting the classroom observations and debrief sessions.” The teacher was informed they still had to complete the “post-test of the Inclusive Teaching Practices and reflection.”

The Equity Instructional Coach informed Coleman that the inclusive practices work with the teacher was moving forward, the teacher “might want to collaborate after November 3 to continue the process of growing in equity based teaching practices.”

The instructional coach continued: “I’m keeping careful progress and meeting notes and creating systems so there’s a paper trail and evidence of growth for colleagues and I work with.” They followed up by adding “Working with them makes me so happy, no matter what the circumstances are.”

Coleman responded by stating that she was “happy to hear that you are creating a system that allows for you to document your coaching and debriefing sessions.”

On October 2, 2023, the Equity Instructional Coach messaged the teacher to work out scheduling, but also to share that they had “submitted a bias incident based on a meeting and email correspondence regarding comments and snide remarks by [redacted].”

The instructional coach stated the reason for the reporting was “based on ableism (physical, emotional, and mental health).” They continue by sharing that “perhaps it was a one time [sic] thing” but that after email correspondence, they “decided it wasn’t a one time [sic] thing, that this would be an ongoing issue with [redacted].” They coach states that they “felt silenced/unsupported by the actions, or lack thereof, by the member of HR on the committee (I don’t know if ‘irony’ is going to be understood here or not).”

The coach adds that they will be meeting with the person “regarding the issue of feeling silenced/unsupported” and the “bias incident will obviously be looked into by the DEI department.” They continue the email stating that “What bothers me the most about this particular issue is that it happened in the team reviewing IMSA policies through an equity lens.” Additionally, it “has made me question how individuals were chosen for the committee, considering the purpose of the work and how policies are inherently geared toward privileged individuals (white, straight, cis, able-bodied, men who are middle class and Christian) and, in reviewing for equity, should be evaluated by those who are not privileged.”

On October 6, the instructional coach sent a calendar invite with a message to a colleague stating, “I would like to meet regarding the Policy Review Team, the first meeting and following email/information, and the behavior of one of its members.” The colleague canceled the meeting and responds with “at this time, you have filed a bias incident report in which I am a witness. We will need to let the process take its course as I do not want to influence the investigation until it has been completed.”

On September 13, 2023, another teacher was informed that it had “been determined that there is no evidence of bias, but rather a lack of inclusion.” The email continues by stating that while the teacher was being “proactive in collecting students names and pronouns, IMSA students still felt uncomfortable and unsafe due to incorrect pronoun usage.”

The DEI director informs the teacher that due to it being the start of the school year and the teacher has “not engaged in diversity, equity, and inclusion professional learning at IMSA,” the outcome for the teacher will be to “engage in a coaching session around gender and sexuality, as well as appropriate use of pronouns” with the Equity Instructional Coach.