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Personal attacks again denigrate U-46 meeting
By Seth Hancock
Another School District U-46 Board of Education meeting devolved in board member Traci Ellis making personal attacks while Donna Smith, the board’s president, said nothing on Monday, Feb. 27.
The board voted on a $49,300 expenditure, out of the education fund, with the AVID Center to pay for training sessions for staff and students on “culturally relevant teaching” and “critical conversations around race, gender, class, sexual orientation and other culturally relevant topics.”
That received a 4-2 vote, Cody Holt and Jeanette Ward voting no while Ellis left the room before the vote and after being allowed to attack Ward.
Ward said she likes the idea of AVID, Advanced Via Individual Determination, and it’s focus on the individual as she was the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree, and she went on to earn two masters.
“I love encouraging students to achieve what might not have been possible in their families in previous generations,” Ward said.
However, Ward said that AVID should be “focused on individuals, not groups.”
“This is the dividing of people by different groups and focusing on what divides us instead of what unites us,” Ward said. “Conversations about race, gender, class and sexual orientation are best had in the home with parents present.”
Board member Sue Kerr said “let’s face it, we basically have a white teaching staff to a majority of students of color,” and those teachers are incapable of teaching minority students without being told how to.
Ellis said: “Thank you Sue for recognizing that there are cultural differences that should be acknowledged. Once again, Mrs. Ward is breathtakingly offensive, and what her words just said was send a message to” minority groups “that you really don’t matter and you’re not worthy of talking about, and whatever your culture is, whatever you bring to this district, keep it at home and talk to your mommy and daddy about it. That’s what I just heard.”
“I know it’s hard through Mrs. Ward’s Eurocentric lens to really fully understand, but she’s talking about something she has no knowledge of because she’s not been one of those children,” Ellis continued.
Ellis went on to call Ward “offensive and ignorant.
“It’s objectionable because it focuses on what divides us instead of what unites us as a country,” Ward responded. “America is a melting pot. We’re meant to come together as Americans. When you divide people up by race, by color, by every other group, it pits people against each other and that’s not what America was supposed to stand for.”
Ellis replied: “People love to talk about that America’s a melting pot, and what that really means is you just want everybody to assimilate down to some norm which is the Eurocentric norm.”
The personal attacks continued as Ellis told Ward “I’m not trying to convince you, I’m trying to educate you about something you clearly don’t know what you are talking about.”
Ellis later admitted she wants to divide people, not unite them, in an exchange where she has yet again been free to interrupt colleagues as Smith stayed silent.
Ward said she doesn’t “see black and white and purple, that’s not what I see first. I see human beings” and Ellis interrupted “you need to see me as a black woman.” Ward said that “I see you as a human being. That’s not how I see the world. I don’t divide people up by color and race and class” and Ellis again interrupted: “You may not, but I divide myself up as a black woman and the fact that you want to erase that is of no moment to me.”
Board member Veronica Noland said as a Hispanic she feels teachers also need to be told how to talk with minorities.
Ward later clarified that she supports the AVID program and this vote was on the sessions which Ellis responded “I know what we’re voting on.”
While Ellis told Ward “you don’t value me,” despite no evidence other than Ward having a different opinion, she has clearly shown she doesn’t value Ward as she’s been freely allowed, by the board president, to levy personal attacks calling her narrow-minded to bigoted among a plethora of other insults.
Earlier in the meeting, the board voted with a 5-2 vote (Holt and Ward voting no) for a social studies curriculum proposal for the secondary levy with a cost of $1.4 million. That discussion also included Ellis making personal, racial attacks against Ward.
Ward said if the proposed resources were voted on separately she would have supported McGraw Hill’s “Discovering Our Past: A History of the United States, Early Years” as it seemed unbiased, but “pervasive liberal bias” in the remaining resource led to her no vote. Those resources include Cengage’s “World Cultures and Geography,” McGraw Hill’s “United States History and Geography: Modern Times and Understanding Economics” as well as Pearson’s Magruder’s “American Government.”
Among the bias cited in Magruder’s “American Government” was an excerpt: “White Americans have been historically reluctant to yield to nonwhite Americans a full and equal place in the social, economic, and political life of this nation. Over time, the principal targets of that ethnic prejudice have been African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanic Americans. The white-male-dominated power structure has also been slow to recognize the claims of women to an equal place in American society.”
“This statement is breathtakingly biased and smacks of racism against white males,” Ward said.
That set off Ellis who called it “breathtakingly offensive” that Ward would have a different opinion than hers.
“I don’t even know where to start with Mrs. Ward’s statement,” Ellis said. “I think she unwittingly just supported the exact passage that she has problems with. Teary eyed about the white male dominated structure but no concern for the oppression, eraser and marginalization of African Americans and Native Americans and other marginalized groups in this country.”
Ward has posted on her Facebook page a series of examples of more bias from the resources from ignoring the religion of the 9-11 attackers to claiming President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies, which started most of the modern entitlement programs, as successful.
Although voting for the proposal, board member Phil Costello said there’s merit to Ward’s claims and it should be discussed free of the personal attacks.
“It is worthy of discussion because clearly there’s perspectives on both sides,” Costello said. “I was just hoping there’d be examples of both sides in this context.”
U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said “we want teachers to present things fair and balanced,” but cited no examples of balance in the resources. Ward responded “we’re voting to pay for these textbooks” which Sanders said was “correct.”
Approved by unanimous votes were a dual-articulated credit program with Elgin Community College (projected cost is $111,000), next year’s school fees, two proposals with Chef’s Depot ($277,630), a proposal with A1 Fowler Inc. ($48,800) and Peak Electric, Inc. ($65,000), an elementary fine arts curriculum proposal ($315,000) and $9.6 million in itemized bills.
The board also approved unanimously an amended proposal with the College Board costing $225,338 to offer a free first AP exam to all students instead of the original $104,439 offering the exam only to free and reduced price meal eligible students. The board also amended its 2017-18 school year board meeting calendar by eliminating the Aug. 7 meeting.