A little more than two months after Niles West High School District 219 Board of Education member Jill Manrique stirred controversy by wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh scarf on the dais of the graduation ceremony at Niles West High School in Skokie, a historically Jewish suburb, she abruptly resigned, saying she can no longer afford to live in the district.

District 219 is accepting applications from residents interested in filling the board vacancy that Manrique’s departure has left.

“I was struggling looking for housing in the district,” Manrique said, adding that the rent in her apartment went up by $600. “It was a big number and there were no improvements made to the building. We didn’t even have consistent heat all winter.”

Manrique, 37, a single mother of three, said she recently moved to Evanston where she found an affordable apartment.

She was elected to the Niles West High School District 219 Board of Education in April 2019 and her term ran through spring 2023.

Manrique’s time on the board was not without controversy. She said she knew her choice to wear a Palestinian cultural headdress, called a keffiyeh, around her neck at the May 22 Niles West graduation ceremony would be controversial, but that she did it anyway to show support for Palestinian students she said are marginalized and oppressed at the school and in the larger community.

The backlash against Manrique was swift. She said she received death threats and that some people accused her of being insensitive for wearing a keffiyeh at the graduation for a school that has a large Jewish student body.

She said her resignation from the school board had nothing to do with the keffiyeh controversy.

“I know why I left and I think anybody who knows me would know I’m not one to run away from a fight and I’m not a person who runs away from people I’ve been working with,” she said.

In her resignation letter to the school board and community, which she published on her Twitter account, Manrique said she does not regret wearing the keffiyeh.

“Safety is not cops with uniforms and guns roaming our hallways,” she wrote. “Safety is when our students, staff, and community members feel that there is no other way to enter our spaces as anything less than their full, authentic selves…where Palestinian kids can wear the keffiyah without fear, and Jewish kids can wear a kippah without fear, and Muslim kids can wear a hijab without fear, and trans kids can use whatever bathroom they damn well please without fear.”

“Safety means we can all live our lives free of disruption and fear as our full, true, selves,” she added. “Safety means that our families have secure housing, food, diapers, Internet, clothes, childcare, and any other support they need to thrive.”

In a statement on its website, Niles Township High School District 219 said it is accepting applications from qualified candidates who would like to be appointed to the D219 Board of Education.

“The vacancy has opened due to the resignation of Ms. Jill Manrique, who stepped down as a board member on July 14, 2022,” it said. It also said the board will fill the vacancy resulting from Manrique’s resignation within the next two months, and that the individual selected will serve on the board for the remainder of Manrique’s term, which ends in 2023. It also said applicants should show familiarity with the board’s policies regarding general duties and responsibilities of a board and a board member, including fiduciary responsibilities, and compliance with board policies regarding conflict of interest, ethics and the gift ban. The board’s policies are available on the District 219 website. Applications are due by noon on Aug. 4.

“We thank Ms. Manrique for her service to the D219 community and wish her well in her future endeavors,” April M. Stallworth, executive director of communications and partnerships with Niles Township High School District 219, said in an email.

“I didn’t want to end my term early,” Manrique said. “I loved being a board member.”

“I hope whoever they put on the school board actually cares about people, cares about the students, especially the ones who haven’t been heard and cares for the workers within the building as well and uses this position of power for good instead of just good for themselves,” she added.

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