Tensions rise during public commentary at District 87 board meeting

What was supposed to be a routine District 87 board meeting turned out to be anything but, with nearly two hours of public commentary under pressure on Wednesday night.

The small room accommodated over 50 people, some holding signs with sayings such as “Stop Indoctrination of Our Children” and “No Critical Race Theory” while others wore “Black Lives Matter” on their bags. clothing.

As the recent school board meetings attracted more and more people, parents with strong opinions on the district’s policies and mask program were expected to prepare for the public comment period of the district. meeting.

“I understand that these issues are hot topics right now in the community and we are hearing them, but we need to be able to come together and talk about them in a more civil way,” said Superintendent Barry Reilly.

The first topic of the evening was the district’s mask policy. Brein Huffman, who spoke on the subject at the last board of directors, told council she had removed her children from the district due to the mandate requiring all students to wear masks and vowed not to return this fall unless it is lifted.

Susan Weeks, a retired kindergarten teacher, spoke in favor of the mandate, saying, “The reason we’re where we’re at with this pandemic is because people haven’t put masks. “

The board doesn’t have as much of a say on the issue as some in the public think.

“The mandate for the mask is (from) the Illinois State Board of Education and what people don’t realize is that we have people (on the board) who would like us to they give us an option, “Reilly said, adding,” We are not going to violate the guidelines of the Illinois State Board of Education. “

The second topic of discussion was what some public commentators have called “critical race theory,” claiming that it is taught in schools in District 87.

“(Critical Race Theory) is not part of the state’s learning standards, so it’s not on our agenda,” Reilly said. “This is something that is a hot topic across the country and has generated a lot of media coverage so that it may be contributing to” increasing parental concern about it. “As far as critical race theory goes, I think people really need to educate themselves because I think there are misconceptions.”

Public speakers such as Megan Zimmer and Diane Benjamin have spoken out against it by calling it “invented history” and “Marxism” while claiming that it pits children against each other based on the color of their child. skin.

Several students at Bloomington High School spoke out in favor of the district’s race policies and curriculum and faced a backlash from some adult members of the public. Many parents who felt very strongly had to be repeatedly warned by the chairman of the board, Mark Wylie, to remain respectful and civil.

An English teacher at Bloomington Junior High School invited parents to meet her and ask her about the curriculum – a sentiment Reilly supported.

“We have to be able to come together, have conversations and learn. Some of the people that’s been here tonight didn’t make that effort outside of a board meeting. A board meeting is where you do business, and it’s not meant to be a place for dialogue and discussion. These are things we can do outside of the formal board meeting, but they have to be willing to contact us, ”Reilly said.

The latest “hot topic” was parental distress over Illinois’ new mandate for comprehensive sex education.

Commentator Becky Swanson held up a book allegedly used by the district, accusing the district of teaching children inappropriate topics that should be left to parents. Other speakers even went so far as to call it “sexual harassment” and not age appropriate.

Kara Brown rebuffed this in her public comment, sharing personal stories of sexual abuse that she couldn’t explain to adults due to the lack of sex education she received in her youth.

Students expressed the need for sex education that includes a more holistic view of sexuality and gender as a way to make all students feel safe and included.

“There have been changes in (sex education) which are state mandates and I can tell you our curriculum is age appropriate and addresses things that are mandated by law,” said Reilly.

In one of the final comments of the evening, Bloomington High School senior Alex Cox told the group: “A lot of it is that you don’t trust our teachers or even the ability to your children to think critically. I’m just asking you to let us have this conversation.

The board voted in favor of a resolution to cancel the June and July meetings, with the next meeting scheduled for early August.

In other matters, counsel:

  • The reunion started on a celebratory note, recognizing 19 students between the 2020 and 2021 school years who received the VHS Biliteracy Seal that demonstrates advanced proficiency in two or more languages. “These kids are the epitome of who we all are and it was exciting to see,” said Reilly.
  • Approved a resolution that changes school improvement days in the 2025-2066 school year to two full days per year instead of four half days. “The goal is to have as little disruption as possible,” said Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Sherrilyn Thomas.
  • Heard from director Tim Frazier on the budgets of the McLean and Dewitt Regional Vocational System and the Bloomington Career Center. Among the courses offered, health sciences are the most popular, with the center hiring a new teacher in the Careers and Medical Terminology program in order to shorten the waiting list. Automotive, criminal justice and welding are also popular programs, he said, while geometry and construction programs have had to be halted due to low enrollment.
  • Updated by bilingual education teacher Kimberly Taber at Bloomington Junior High School on the district’s multilingual education programs. She told council that the district is home to 750 families who speak a different language at home and that about half of those students are currently enrolled in a bilingual or learning English program. The district will add a new English language development specialist in kindergarten, three bilingual teachers at BHS and expand the programs to all buildings.
  • I learned from Reilly that graduation ceremonies will return to Grossinger Motors Colosseum starting next year. He reported that schools would resume pre-pandemic schedules in the fall and that the district would continue to follow guidelines from the state’s public health department.

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