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Social media quote ignites backlash in U-46
By Seth Hancock
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a witch hunt as “the act of unfairly looking for and punishing people who are accused of having opinions that are believed to be dangerous or evil.”
Readers can decide what occurred at the Board of Education meeting in School District U-46 on Monday, Feb. 8 when an overflow crowd came out mostly to reprimand board member Jeanette Ward for a Facebook post on her Jeanette Ward, U-46 School Board Member page.
There were 37 people who spoke during public comments, most speaking against Ward’s Feb. 1 post of an excerpt from a conservative black author which she opened her post: “In honor of Black History month, a quote by Jason L. Riley, from his book ‘Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed.’” There were seven who commented in support of Ward.
Ward included an excerpt stating “blacks have become their own worst enemy, and liberal leaders do not help matters by blaming self-inflicted wounds on whites or ‘society,’” as well as “that having a black man in the Oval Office is less important than having one in the home.”
Board member Traci Ellis was not bashful of showing her efforts to organize the backlash against Ward wearing a shirt that read “Eracism” after sending out an email on Feb. 3 trying to gin up anger against Ward claiming the post was racist and offensive.
That email was obtained by The Examiner, and Ellis wrote: “Since being elected, Ms. Ward has made many disparaging comments about black parents, Latino parents, low income parents, etc. I have mostly let those comments pass without much comment.”
Ellis provided no examples of such comments but may have been referring to Ward’s opposition to Full Day Kindergarten, which Ward has not once raised any issue of race in speaking about the program but Ellis has. Ellis sent the email to several U-46 teachers during school hours, and at least one teacher replied during school hours.
Before public comments occurred, rules were stated that “comments must be in good taste and cannot reference individuals by name,” and Donna Smith, the board’s president, said that all had a right to speak but “whether you agree or disagree we should all, speakers and the audience, be respectful and not interrupt our speakers.”
Ward was mentioned by name several times with disparaging remarks, and some in the audience laughed at some of the supporters of Ward’s when they spoke without any comment from Smith. One of Ward’s supporters was even confronted by an audience member after her comments, but there was no interjection then.
Instead, Smith reprimanded Ward saying board members should “not allow our personal values and beliefs impact our ability to govern on behalf of our students and our staff.”
Two speakers claimed the post was “oppressive” and even likened it to what occurred during the Holocaust, one being district teacher Deb Perryman who quoted Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer as why she needs to speak out. Perryman’s sudden opposition came after she replied to Ward’s post on Feb. 2 calling it “a great idea to post a book that best represents what Black History Month means to each of us.”
Mich Barbezat called Ward’s post “offensive, divisive and plain repulsive,” Christine Blanchard said it was “intolerable” that the idea of self responsibility exists and Elise Jackson called Ward a “so-called U-46 board member” and “she needs to resign.”
Bill Wright said he didn’t “think the intent… was to create this much of a controversy,” but using “a U-46 board page for this type of event, you should understand that you’re representing all of the board and not just yourself.” He also challenged board members to go to communities who might not agree with their side.
To note, Ward and Cody Holt held a town hall meeting in Elgin, one of the communities that has not been receptive to those two, shortly after being elected which had many teachers attend who did not agree with those board members.
Ward addressed the use of her Facebook page during board member updates stating: “I wanted to say that I’m grateful for the comments tonight, and I’m grateful for the representative republic that guarantees free speech. I also wanted to say that my Facebook page does not represent all of the board. It represents one board member, and that’s Jeanette Ward. That’s why it says Jeanette Ward, U-46 Board Member.”
Two black supports of Ward, Babette Holder and Keith Turner, noted the apparent intimidation tactics were meant to silence free speech. Holder is the cousin of President Barrack Obama’s former Attorney General Eric Holder and holds a different point of view from him, and Turner, a Navy veteran, challenged the crowd to question if that excerpt might be true.
Turner said: “Mrs. Ward is a citizen of the United States, as we all are, and she has every right to her freedom of speech, to express her opinions and to share those opinions of others who also have the right to their opinions. And for people to come here and criticize her and hold her accountable for stating, or re-stating, those things that beg the question that needs to be asked today, that raise issues for our consideration, in a venue of education. How are you going to educate your children if you refuse to allow them to ask and beg the question, what is the status of our people?”
Holder called those who felt offended by the post “thin-skinned,” and noted that several speakers denigrated Riley as “a supposed black man,” “an outlier” and a “token” and unaccomplished. Riley sits on the editorial board for The Wall Street Journal.
“You’re up here to chastise and chide someone else while we do have our own problems, and we hear this all the time,” Holder said. “Let me add to your list an uncle Tom, a sellout. We do have our own divisive problems.”
Cynthia Schenk said the outcry was not race-based but rather political-based and turned around the racism charge on Ellis saying: “If you sit there and look at me and because I’m white, and I am a conservative I am therefore racist you are racist. That is racist.”
Scott Swanson said: “Jeanette Ward properly celebrated Black History Month by echoing the same sentiments of historical black leaders such as Frederick Douglas and Booker T. Washington whom Jason Riley clearly understood and wrote about in his book.”
Art Pierscionek noted several occasions Ellis has been divisive, including one instance when Ellis questioned Ward’s intelligence, with no such backlash coming against Ellis.
Ellis, noting the district motto of educating all students, read a prepared statement and claimed she wants nobody marginalized despite organizing an effort to marginalize Ward.
Ward said: “Institutional racism is a system that keeps a disproportionate number of minorities’ dependant on the government. I want all people to succeed, people of all colors. There is one race, the human race, and we’re all different shades of tan. Why is it that the only non-racist thoughts are liberal thoughts? Did I not honor that African-American author by quoting him? I stand by quoting Jason L. Riley.”
Ellis called the ideas in the post “discredited,” but according to Centers for Disease Control data over 72 percent of black children are born out-of-wedlock and U.S. Census Bureau information shows a strong correlation between out-of-wedlock births and poverty.
Board member Veronica Noland asked that there be a policy drafted to address what board members can post on social media which would, by definition, lead to censorship.