The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 board member files act violation complaint
By Seth Hancock
School District U-46 Board of Education member Jeanette Ward has filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s (AG) office alleging Open Meeting Act violations by the board at a closed session board self-evaluation meeting on Saturday, Feb. 3.
The Examiner obtained Ward’s complaint through a Freedom of Information Act request with the AG’s office, and it includes a “partial transcript” as Ward claimed the board “spent about an hour discussing how they might prevent her, a fellow board member, from posting on social media.”
Ward noted in the complaint she was not in attendance at the meeting, facilitated by the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB), because she publicly stated she would not unless the meeting was held publicly because, in the past, in closed session she and members of the public have been called “the 21st century brand of the KKK” and has been told “when I look at you, I see pointy white hoods.”
The AG’s office has “determined that further action is warranted” and is currently investigating.
The transcript shows that Donna Smith, the board’s president, and board members Traci Ellis, Veronica Noland and Melissa Owens as well as U-46 CEO Tony Sanders were discussing behind closed doors how to silence Ward. Board members Phil Costello and Sue Kerr did make comments but do not appear to have taken part in the efforts to silence Ward.
The following is the transcript:
Ellis said “board dynamics is glaringly missing” and is a “third rail.”
Noland said: “We have one board member boycotting this discussion.”
Ellis says the “impact that this board dysfunction has on the district… we can’t fix it.”
Owens said: “I don’t feel that all of the board members have the intent to move the district forward.”
Smith said: “We are dealing with it.”
Noland said: “Staff is walking on eggshells.... It impedes relationships between the staff and the board.”
Ellis said: “I would like to hear from Tony on that.”
Sanders said: “If we actually reserved debating for the board room... I also think that saving the debates for the boardroom is appropriate, it’s the outside the boardroom, Facebook activity, the never ending ‘what’s somebody going to post today that’s going to blow up.’ It’s a challenge, it’s a challenge for staff, and a challenge for me. It detracts the entire, case in point, this most recent weekly message I put out, was to try to get people refocused on what the right things are in the district. We’ve got 2,500 teachers that are walking on eggshells, one in particular, who thinks she’s going to be fired because of public comments on Facebook. She sent me an email because she thought she was going to be fired from what has been posted. I had to address that as a leader of the organization, of the staff, and I had to address that. I would rather have these conversations, rather than Facebook debates. Board work should be reserved for the boardroom and for behind the scenes conversations and not for general public Facebook debates. That would be my one request.”
Ward noted in the complaint Sanders was referring to her post regarding an assignment her daughter had that inaccurately described three major religions, and she added: “I did not mention the teacher in the post.”
Noland said: “Unfortunately the one person you need to request it from isn’t here.”
Ellis said: “Well, I have a suggestion for a board agreement.... We need to have a board agreement. I mean let’s just call her on it.”
Smith reads from policy: “Board members will carefully consider what they post on Facebook.”
Ellis said: “When I say to someone ‘you’re looking at this through a Eurocentric lens, that is not appropriate and you’re forgetting to take into account,’ I get accused of attacking.”
Ellis continues: “So when Jeanette evaluates Tony publicly on Facebook, which is a board agreement that I think we should make here today, that we do not…”
IASB representative suggests not using Ward’s name.
Ellis responds: “Why, is that illegal or inappropriate? She could be here, but she chose not to be here…. I’m going to respect that she chose to boycott the meeting and could be here, when she’s one of the key problems…. So I’m not going to agree to avoid the big white elephant in the room.”
Costello asks: “Why is it a ‘white elephant’?”
Ellis replies: “It wasn’t a racial thing.... The board member who shall not be named.... We’re all tap dancing and walking on eggshells to avoid, what we all know is a flipping problem.”
Ellis says: “I’m not going to bring up the board member who shall not be named when the board member who shall not be named is 112 (percent) of the problem on this board. So, the board member who shall not be named should not be evaluating Tony in public.”
Ellis continues: “What I am suggesting is that we make a board agreement that doesn’t name the board member who shall not be named... a board agreement that none of us will evaluate Tony in public. I’m not suggesting that we single Jeanette Ward out.”
Noland asks: “What do we do when we have one board member who continuously breaks our agreements?”
Ellis responds: “When any board member evaluates Tony publicly, that board member, who evaluated Tony publicly, and your Facebook post.... So I want to have a discussion about this.... I don’t know how to address it when it didn’t occur during the meeting.”
Ellis continued: “When you have any rogue board member... what are we going to do with it?”
Noland asks: “What do you do if you get a six to one vote on this?”
Smith said: “I was just going to say the same thing.”
Ellis said: “I’ll be honest, I don’t even know if I would vote on this anymore…. I don’t agree to ‘I will encourage and respect the free expression of opinion.’ I don’t and I won’t.... I’m not agreeing to that because there are some things that get expressed, that in my mind, in my moral compass, are absolutely horrific, and is hate speech. I don’t respect it and I won’t tolerate it.... I don’t even know that I would agree to that anymore.... I will not remain neutral to what violates, what I feel is hate speech directed at certain segments of this district. I won’t remain neutral. That’s complicit-ing me. So now you’re talking about Traci’s personal code of... and that’s just where I feel that I’ve been pushed to.”
Kerr said: “The solution is in the voting booth.”
Owens asks: “CEO, tells us ‘this is impacting staff’... how are we going to continue to recruit qualified teachers?”
Ellis asks: “How are we going to recruit a qualified superintendent?”
Ellis said: “Every time I see it I’m calling it... we aren’t signaling that we care about staff.”
The board eventually approved the agreements 5-2, Costello and Ward voting no, on March 5.