The Naperville School District has canceled a scheduled speech by Bill Ayers after it sparked "outrage" in the community, the district said in a statement Monday.
Ayers, an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago whose controversial past as a member of the 1960's radical group the Weather Underground resurfaced during the presidential campaign, was scheduled to speak at Naperville North High School on April 8. The school district said last week that students would need signed permission from their parents in order to attend.
But in a statement released Monday, Supt. Alan Leis said that, "Dr. Ayers' appearance has clearly become a 'lightning rod,'" and that the controversy surrounding the speech would outweigh its value to the students.
The full statement:
The appearance by Dr. Bill Ayers at Naperville North High School next week has been canceled.
On Friday, it was announced through a Talk203 email that we were reviewing the decision to invite him and that we were also exploring the possibility of moving the appearance to another venue. Initially, many people were upset about his appearance in a school building, even though it was to have been with a select group of students with required parental permission. Several people offered worthy suggestions about how to make the event more meaningful by concurrently inviting someone that would provide an equally strong opposing viewpoint.
Over the weekend, however, it became clear that this issue was not really about where Dr. Ayers was speaking, but that he was speaking at all. Each day, the level of emotion and outrage has seemed to increase, along with the number of emails and phone calls received. What was most unfortunate was that a few directed their anger toward an outstanding high school and at a well-regarded, award-winning teacher who encourages students to think for themselves.
While parents and others have written urging us to continue with the event because they want students exposed to diverse viewpoints, Dr. Ayers' appearance has clearly become a "lightning rod," both inside and outside the District 203 community, because of his past actions. It is clear that any value to our students would be lost in such a highly-charged atmosphere, and that any debate of issues or viewpoints would be overshadowed by media coverage and anger over the event itself.
Dr. Alan Leis, Superintendent of Schools
Naperville Community Unit School District 203