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D219 Board Statement of 12/15/20

The Niles Township High School District 219 made the following statement at its December 15, 2020 special board meeting in response to public comment.

Board Statement in Response to Recent Public Comments

The Board of Education encourages and values public comment at our meetings. We use public comment instructively to inform us of pending issues and concerns. While we generally do not respond during meetings to individual comments submitted, we have our Administration follow up on the issues raised.

Though rare for the Board to respond to public comments directly, the Board believes it necessary to address a series of recent public comments regarding the “Resolution Affirming Adherence to Board Policy 2:80” issued on October 20, 2020. Many comments have alleged that the Board is attempting to silence one of its members, Jill Manrique. A fair reading of our Resolution would quickly show that this allegation is simply not true and, in fact, grossly mischaracterizes the Board’s intent.

As such, we will take a moment this evening to encourage those who are interested to consider the content of the Resolution. The following applies.

1. The Resolution affirms that all Board members have a duty as elected officials to act in the best interest of District 219. The Resolution affirms Board members’ obligation to adhere to Board Policy 2:80, which requires all Board members to contribute to a Board environment in which controversial issues are presented fairly and the dignity of each individual is recognized and protected, and to maintain professional communications with Board colleagues and members of the District 219 community.

2. The Resolution affirms that individual Board members do not give up their right to exercise free speech as a private citizen when they become school board members. The Board fully recognizes the right of every citizen, including Board member Manrique, to speak as a private
citizen on matters unrelated to her position as a Board member.

3. The Resolution also affirms that Board members have a duty to ensure that when they speak as private citizens, they make it clear that they do not speak on behalf of the Board of Education. Individual Board members cannot speak on behalf of the Board without Board authorization.

4. The Resolution affirms that Board member Manrique was not speaking on behalf of the Board in a series of statements beginning in June 2020 using her Twitter account, which identifies her as the Vice President of the Board of Education of District 219.

5. The Resolution affirms that Board member Manrique’s messages on Twitter that disparaged and mocked community members with viewpoints contrary to her own were contrary to her duty under Board Policy 2:80 to respect and protect the dignity of District 219 community members and to communicate professionally with community members.

6. The Resolution affirms that Board member Manrique acted contrary to the Board’s obligations under the Illinois Open Meetings Act when she responded to a community member’s public comment by stating that the comment was “disgusting” and that the community member should be stopped from making additional public comment.

The Board of Education through this Resolution seeks to affirm our legal duty to the community we serve. We take seriously any allegation that a Board member has been mistreated by other Board members. You should know the Board has undergone training through the Illinois Association of School Boards to improve our ability to work effectively together to better serve the community. The Board also had an independent review conducted of Board members’ concerns that their attempts to speak during Board meetings were interrupted based on discriminatory use of procedural rules. The result of that review was that there was no evidence of discriminatory intent by any Board member to silence
other members.

Our ability to function effectively as a Board has never been more important as we confront perhaps the most significant challenge to public school districts in our history – that of effectively educating our students during the continuing COVID-19 Pandemic. We have seen how the Pandemic has exposed the inequities in our public education system, and we must address those inequities to the best of our abilities in delivering the best educational services possible to our students. Please know, as we look to the Spring 2021 semester and address how to safely return to in-person instruction, that we are focused on the educational mission of District 219 and on acting in the best interests of the entire District 219 community.