A local middle school principal said his ideas about gender identity have changed in the years since he wrote online that he believed transgender women “are NOT women.”
“If they were, I could have plastic surgeon give me pointed ears and an eyebrow lift, spread my middle and ring finger in a salute while saying live long and prosper…and that would somehow make me a Vulcan,” he wrote in a Facebook post that a leader from the state’s civil rights organization for LGBTQ people called “wrong-headed and hurtful.”
Paolo Dulcamara’s Facebook profile was public when he was hired to become Mascoutah Middle School’s new principal in January, which means anyone could see his posts online. The profile has since been deleted.
Superintendent Craig Fiegel said Mascoutah District 19’s hiring process includes doing a “quick internet search” on a potential employee, but that it wasn’t the district’s practice to search for every Facebook profile.
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“I personally do not use Facebook and was not made aware of Paolo’s Facebook until shortly after he was hired,” Fiegel wrote in a statement. “There were a couple posts that were, I felt, sensitive and after he and I visited, I felt might misrepresent his true feeling and suggested he might rethink his posts.”
“I remained comfortable with him as our choice,” Fiegel added. “The interview team consisting of parents, staff and administrators chose him, and all reference checks were outstanding.”
Fiegel said he didn’t see the post about transgender women when he was looking at Dulcamara’s profile after he had been hired.
“I think there are certainly comments/views in this post that do not need to be expressed,” Fiegel stated.
Dulcamara, in a statement, wrote that he is now saddened by the tone of his comments, which he posted to Facebook in October 2015.
“It is unfortunate that I, or anyone, would ever communicate a perspective or view with a negative or disrespectful tone,” he stated. “Such a tone does not reflect who I am. In reading this post from nearly three years ago, I see how my views have evolved in the face of our ever-developing society.”
Dulcamara wrote of his views today, “I fully accept and respect the legal, social and personal identification of a transgender person to live their life free of prejudice or bias as I fully accept and respect the right of each person to live their life free of prejudice and bias.”
Michael Ziri, the director of public policy at Equality Illinois, which advocates for the rights of the LGBTQ community, expressed concern over Dulcamara’s comments from 2015.
“While we understand individuals like Mr. Dulcamara can evolve in their thinking as they learn about the lived experiences of LGBTQ people, we are especially troubled by his remarks because he is now a principal at a middle school,” Ziri stated in an email to the News-Democrat.
According to Ziri, many transgender students in Illinois report experiencing mistreatment while in school.
“And now these students must encounter an administrator who has expressed mean-spirited and misinformed opinions about their lives,” Ziri stated. “Instead, Mr. Dulcamara should follow the law regarding creating affirming schools and keep an open and inclusive mind when it comes to how others, especially young people, with different life experiences should be respected and treated.”
When Dulcamara wrote the post, he was an assistant principal at a public middle school in Lawton, Oklahoma. He also has experience working in Catholic schools. Before he got into education, he studied to become a Catholic priest.
In his previous job as a school administrator in Oklahoma, Dulcamara said, he worked with transgender students, who were allowed to use whichever bathroom they wanted at school: girls, boys or a staff bathroom.
“In my view, if there’s a student who identifies as a girl or a boy, ultimately, I always am going to confer with the superintendent and confer with policy to make sure exactly what policy says to make sure that we’re not doing something one way or another that’s outside the law,” Dulcamara said.
Fiegel, the superintendent, said they are required to let transgender students use the bathroom they want.
In nearby O’Fallon District 90, school board member Steve Springer has been criticized for questioning the district’s accommodation for a transgender student to use the bathroom in the nurse’s office.
“It seems you have decided to change the God-given biological makeup of this student without input from a court, the BOE or God,” Springer wrote in an email to the superintendent and school board president there.
Barb Elmore, the president of the teachers union in Mascoutah, declined to comment on Dulcamara’s Facebook post, saying the union “strongly believes it is a district administration matter.”
Fiegel said he is confident that Dulcamara will follow district policy and that he thinks the new principal wants to support all students.
“Furthermore, it is my personal policy, as well as the policy of the school district, to be inclusive and open-minded,” Fiegel said. “We do not tolerate discrimination of any sort in our schools, from anyone. We believe that we have a fundamental duty to support students on their journey through Mascoutah schools and wherever their lives may take them.
“We take this responsibility seriously and always strive to provide the best support we can for our students.”
Dulcamara said in an interview that, in the past, he would use Facebook to argue, mostly about politics, with his friends from school and from the Navy.
He said the profile wasn’t open to the public until his wife got sick and he started a fundraiser for her. Dulcamara made his profile public so the fundraiser could reach more people.
After his wife died and he started applying for new jobs, Dulcamara said his family suggested he delete his Facebook profile because of the political nature of many of his posts. Under the old profile, he also shared conservative-leaning Breitbart News links and Milo Yiannopoulos commentary. Because of that advice and because he wasn’t using the profile anymore, Dulcamara said he eventually got rid of it.
Mascoutah Middle School’s future
Dulcamara started working as Mascoutah Middle School’s new principal last month, replacing Bob Stone, who retired.
Under Dulcamara’s one-year contract with the district, his salary is $99,000.
He said he plans to make himself a part of the community in Mascoutah. He hopes to encourage family involvement in the school.
“I’m just here to offer my gifts and talents to Mascoutah Middle School, and I look forward to seeing what gifts and talents Mascoutah Middle School brings out in me,” Dulcamara said.
Enrollment has been growing at the school: from 759 students in 2013 to 845 last year.
Dulcamara said construction is planned to help make room for them in the cafeteria and in new classrooms.
In 2017, the average Mascoutah Middle School class size was about 25 students. The statewide average in the same year was 20.
At a glance
▪ Name: Paolo Dulcamara
▪ Age: 52
▪ Position: Mascoutah Middle School principal
▪ Education: Bachelor’s degree from Conception Seminary College in Conception, Missouri; master’s degree from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia; master’s degree from Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma
▪ Experience: One year as Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School director of campus ministry in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; five years as MacArthur Middle School Spanish and electives teacher in Lawton, Oklahoma; five years as St. Mary’s Catholic School principal in Lawton, Oklahoma; four years as MacArthur Middle School assistant principal in Lawton, Oklahoma
Editor’s note: This story has been edited to correctly identify the accommodation that O’Fallon District 90 made for a transgender student.