Elgin Area School District U-46 board member Traci O'Neal Ellis offered an emotional apology Monday to her fellow board members, district employees and the community for the "distraction" caused by her Facebook post likening the American flag to toilet paper. Yet she stood by her original comments about the flag.
"I am sorry," she said. "I make no apologies for my comment about the flag. I made them as a private citizen, as a taxpayer in this country on my personal Facebook page on a matter of import in the current national discourse based upon my personal experiences.
"I could have been much more circumspect in my criticism and more elegant in my language," she continued. "There is a huge gap between the America that we say we are and the America that we actually are, and it is that gap that my comments are addressing."
More than a dozen people voiced their support for Ellis, whose controversial Sept. 24 post about the American flag resulted in death threats. Ellis, expressing support for NFL players who are kneeling this football season during the national anthem, posted that the flag "means nothing more than toilet paper to me."
Many at Monday's meeting called the backlash against athletes and others who kneel during the national anthem and Ellis' flag comment a teachable moment.
"It's just another proof that racism is alive and well among us," said Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford of Elgin. "Frank expressions from black leaders about how they really feel and what they really think is important, if we are going to move forward."
Ellis' post prompted more than a 1,000 Facebook replies -- public and private, Many responses were from people condemning her statement while using racial epithets and other disparaging terms. Others expressed support.
There was extra police presence during Monday's meeting as officers kept control over people entering and leaving the board room, whose capacity of 85 occupants was not surpassed.
Kneeling during the national anthem has become a national symbol of protest against the shooting of unarmed black people by police and how minorities are treated by law enforcement.
Elgin resident Mary Shesgreen said patriotism for some people is observing rituals and upholding certain symbols of what it means to be American.
"A deeper sense of patriotism, in my heart, is love for all the people in this country ... respect for the amended Constitution and all the ways that freedom has been expanded," she said. "Patriotism means constantly trying to perfect this country and caring with sensitivity and understanding about the variety of backgrounds from which people come."
A couple of commenters Monday sought Ellis' resignation from the board for disparaging the flag.
Linda Rusenovich of Elgin said Ellis should be held accountable for her words as an elected official.
"All of us value the freedom, individual rights, and rule of law which we enjoy as citizens," she said. "Your disrespectful words only alienate potential allies. I ask you to apologize, then as a community we can try to move on."
School board member Jeanette Ward strongly condemned Ellis' flag comment and also denounced those who attacked her with racial slurs.
The Elgin Police Department is investigating the most serious online threats made against Ellis, including someone writing "One bullet" on her public, school board Facebook page. Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said Monday there have been no developments in the investigation.
A few people urged school board members to use this controversy to start a conversation about race relations, and possibly host classes or forums.
"There's been a history of segregation, a history of violence against blacks and other minorities in this country," said Greg Addy of Elgin. "There needs to be some soul searching, if anything is going to happen in this country. ... Maybe we can come together and begin to talk to each other because that's the only way things are going to be done."