GENEVA — A Geneva High School French teacher has faced scrutiny this week after she posted a profanity-laced rant about someone who she said would not wear a mask at a choir concert she attended at another suburban school district.
The social media accounts for the teacher, Toni Tortorello-Allaway, were closed, but not before the video was widely shared. Her phone was disconnected and she did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
In the three-minute recording, Tortorello-Allaway discussed attending her daughter’s choir concert. While working at the ticket booth, she said, she saw an alum from a few years ago who came in with his grandparents and mother and described him as “being kind of a conservative (expletive) back then.”
The grandparents were not wearing masks, she said, and she reminded them to wear masks indoors, per Gov. JB Pritzker’s mandate.
“And I’m like, ‘Am I going to have to (expletive) throw down with this (expletive),” according to the video. “Because I deal with this in school all day long. They (expletive) and moan about having to wear their masks and ‘We’re living in fear and all this crap.’ Whatever. And I stare at her and I go, ‘Are you kidding me right now? Like, we’re at a high school choir concert. Is this really where you want to start (expletive) and be a (expletive) and be a (expletive expletive)?’”
After finishing selling tickets, Tortorello-Allaway said in the video, she took her seat — right in front of the same family.
The grandmother “is wearing the mask literally hanging off her ear” and reports it to school personnel who announce that everyone must wear a mask properly over their nose and mouth, “if we want to continue having in-person music concerts,” according to her video.
“So old biddy grandma huffs and puffs and she’s all (expletive) off. Fine, whatever,” Tortorello-Allaway states in the recording.
She had her own elderly parents and aunt and uncle with her for the concert, sitting in front of the other family, Allaway said in the video.
“I will throw down with you,” Tortorello-Allaway said in the recording. “The concert’s going on, it’s beautiful … Grandma has the mask under her chin like the (expletive) head that she is.”
The choir director had all the choirs return to the stage and sing, “Lift Every Voice (and Sing),” and told the audience that it was the Black national anthem, Tortorello-Allaway said.
“What do you think (expletive) grandma did? She was so appalled, she actually got up and walked out while they were singing,” Tortorello-Allaway said in the video. “You’re not even trying to hide what a racist piece of (expletive) you are. How dare you act like this. (Expletive) you.”
The issue of masking in schools has been a thorny one politically in Illinois and Geneva, especially since the governor earlier this year reinstated a requirement for people to wear masks indoors at schools and other public places. Earlier this year, parents and others opposing the masking requirements packed school board meetings and some groups held rallies against such COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
Last week, St. Charles School Board member Carolyn Waibel abruptly resigned, citing “unrelenting harassment” she’s received over her stance in support of COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
Reaction to Tortorello-Allaway’s rant also drew backlash online and it even prompted a reaction from Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Gary Rabine who issued a news release calling for the teacher’s firing.
In a statement posted on the Geneva District 304 website on Wednesday, officials acknowledged the situation.
“The District is aware of a social media video recently posted by a Geneva High School teacher, and we are actively looking into the matter,” according to the statement.
“The District does not condone or support behavior or language that does not reflect the values we strive to instill in our students. Statements made by individual employees do not represent the views or values of the Geneva School District,” according to the statement. “Because this is a personnel matter, all actions are confidential until public action is required by law. The District administration will work to handle this matter under its policies and procedures.”
Patrick Hofstetter, a former Geneva resident who now lives in Elburn, started a petition on Change.org, calling for Allaway to be disciplined.
“This video shows clearly that it is not acceptable to have educators indoctrinating their students with personal opinions,” Hofstetter’s petition states.
“We are all entitled to different points of views, but clearly this is not the intention of Mrs. Tortorello-Allaway,” according to his petition statement. “The school board should act quickly to take disciplinary actions and curb this type of hateful rhetoric before it spreads through the district. Teaching our children this lesson will prove to be harmful in the long run.”
Hofstetter said Tortorello-Allaway should be reprimanded, not necessarily fired — as others signing the petition are posting.
“This is not acceptable behavior for our teachers,” Hofstetter said. “It creates down the road more and more problems if it is not addressed. Everybody is entitled to their own opinions about everything, but when you take it public, you change the playing field completely.”
And while he said people are entitled to their opinions and free speech, in a position like hers, as a teacher, such comments can be inflammatory and disrespectful.
“She could have done it without all the swearing,” Hofstetter said. “We are trying to teach our kids to be respectful of everybody’s opinion. Maybe this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Basically, there’s times to open your mouth and not to do it in a certain way.”
Geneva School Board President Taylor Egan stated in a text that the issue has not come to the board level.
“And to this point (it) has been handled at the administrative level,” Egan’s text stated.