The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 election message spurs some controversy
By Seth Hancock
Following the Nov. 8 presidential election in which Republican candidate Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton, School District U-46 CEO Tony Sanders sent out a weekly message just a few days later illustrating that may be the case.
The message opened with Sanders listing a host of subgroups based on race and religion and went on to write “we consider our diversity to be our strength” and that “we work hard to lift each other up, not tear each other down.”
Sanders further wrote: “On the heels of this week’s election results, I have heard from staff members who have shared their fears and anxiety, and those of their students, about the future based on statements made during the divisive presidential campaign. I cannot pretend to know how some of the words and phrases used have affected you.”
The message also included a resource to help staff “reassure our students and each other” on how to cope with Trump’s victory.
The day after the message went out, school board members Cody Holt and Jeanette Ward responded with a joint statement posted via their respective Facebook pages. Their message stated they agreed with the sentiment that it’s time to “lift each other up, not tear each other down,” but Sanders’ “message does not fully reflect U-46’s value of ‘all means all.’”
While Sanders’ message claimed that he was hearing fears and concerns from staff, Holt and Ward said they too have heard from stakeholders including “educators, parents and taxpayers who felt that the message was inappropriate and divisive” as the district includes citizens “who are celebrating the outcome of this election cycle.”
“What is troubling is the appearance of an implication that those U-46 stakeholders who supported President-elect Trump do not value differences, want to ‘tear each other down,’ and do not ‘consider diversity our strength.’ We are hopeful that this is an incorrect conclusion,” the joint statement read.
Holt and Ward questioned if Sanders would have released such a statement had Clinton, “who hinted that (her) policies could infringe on many of the rights and values that we as Americans hold sacred,” won.
“In any sport conducted at U46 we teach all of our staff and students to congratulate the winners and the losers in the spirit of good sportsmanship, which should translate to all aspects of our conduct in the multiple areas of our lives, including our civic and political ones,” Holt and Ward’s statement continued, and on what to tell children about this election they said: “The simple answer is explain to them that our great republic has endured and will continue to do so because of the freedoms we have and an electoral process that promotes self-governance.”
The Examiner sent questions to Sanders about his decision to issue such a political statement, and he defended his message.
Considering the U-46 community includes Republicans and Democrats, Libertarians and Greens, independents and so on, Sanders was asked if it was even appropriate for him to make any statement regarding the election.
“My message was to address the concerns I was hearing from staff,” Sanders responded. “Not once in my message did I address anything related to any political party, nor President-elect Trump. Rather, I addressed the concerns I was hearing.”
Asked how legitimizing the fears and concerns of one political faction within the district while ignoring other political groups helps to build bridges, Sanders claimed he didn’t legitimize fears and concerns and claimed it wasn’t political simply because he didn’t specifically address any political parties.
However, the resource provided in Sanders’ message clearly calls the election of Trump a “negative outcome,” and one can likely presume those “who have shared their fears and anxiety” with Sanders were not Trump supporters.
Holt and Ward asked in their statement that Sanders provide another resource “appropriately celebrating the victory for those who supported President-elect Trump,” and The Examiner asked if one would be forthcoming. Sanders did not answer and reiterated that he didn’t legitimize fears.
Sanders’ weekly message concluded with “let us demonstrate that building bridges to bring us together yields more benefits than building fences to keep us apart.”
On Ward’s social media page, self-declared supporters of Sanders called Ward “a hateful and willing participant in … bigotry” and that “you act as a terrorist.” Failed board candidate Larry Bury further illustrated the clear partisan message from Sanders by saying a similar message wouldn’t have been needed if Clinton won.
Board members Traci Ellis and Veronica Noland posted their own joint statement after Holt and Ward’s was posted, and Ellis and Noland continued to further divide and claimed U-46 is in “collective pain” despite the district, like the nation as a whole, including a diverse set of political beliefs.
“We jointly and whole-heartedly reject the hate-filled and vile messages, actions, and insinuations that have mocked, belittled, threatened and traumatized” minorities the statement said, and while clearly marginalizing others Ellis and Noland claimed those with a different opinion are the ones guilty of “marginalization.”
Recently both Ellis and Noland have called members of the public, during public board meetings, hateful and bigoted for disagreeing with district practices and, along with the board’s president Donna Smith and member Sue Kerr, have changed the public comments portion of meetings to limit the time of those speaking.
As has been frequently reported, Ellis has publicly levied personal attacks on colleagues and members of the public both on social media and during board meetings and has been left completely free to do so from the board’s leadership as Smith has said nothing.
Teachers who support the district and Sanders have been allowed to freely act unprofessionally at board meetings, in violation of district policy, by personally attacking members of the public who have simply attempted to hold the district accountable or for simply offering dissenting opinions.
Along with Ellis and Noland, Kerr issued a message supportive of Sanders’ weekly message, but said people need to have conversations with each other outside of social media “by going out and talking to our fellow human beings, listening to their concerns, understanding where they are coming from.”
Neither Smith or board member Phil Costello have issued a public statement regarding Sanders’ weekly message.