People push for 'no gay' Warren board member's ouster
Warren board censures Biondi, but may be able to pursue removal
Calls were made Tuesday night for the resignation of Warren Township High School board member Liz Biondi after Biondi said she would not want to hire someone who is gay to replace retiring Superintendent Mary Perry Bates.
About 400 people filled a cafeteria for a school board meeting at Warren's Almond Road junior-senior campus in Gurnee. Fifteen visitors used public comment time to criticize Biondi for her remarks and demanded her resignation, often to applause from the crowd.
In addition to the public comments, the Warren District 121 board voted 5-0 in favor of a public disapproval, known as a censure, condemning the remarks Biondi made at a Dec. 2 special session and calling for her resignation. The board was applauded after its vote.
No one spoke in favor of Biondi at the session. Neither Biondi nor board member Catherine Campbell attended Tuesday's meeting.
As part of the action, the seven-member board will have a search superintendent committee represented by everyone except Biondi.
"Whereas, the comments made by Ms. Biondi threaten both the district's educational mission, its school climate and its day-to-day operation," the resolution states in part. "The comments by Ms. Biondi threaten to alienate candidates in the upcoming superintendent search, and have alienated parents, students, community members and other stakeholders in the district."
Warren junior Julia Dennen was among the speakers who drew strong applause after calling for Biondi's resignation. She said Biondi's comments were wrong.
"She, Miss Biondi, is perpetuating homophobia," Dennen said.
McHenry resident Kelly Stanbury said she's worked for the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life in the Gurnee-Wadsworth area and that there always has been support for gay and lesbian participants.
"As a proud sister of a lesbian, I am appalled that in this day and age, an elected public official would exhibit such ignorance and prejudice toward a group of people," Stanbury said.
Jason Baker, an English teacher at Warren's O'Plaine Road freshmen-sophomore campus, said he collected 3,000 signatures on an online petition demanding Biondi's resignation.
"I'm going to assume that your comments were not made out of hate but out of ignorance," Baker said.
Biondi, who couldn't be reached for comment after the board action Tuesday night, has apologized for saying at a Dec. 2 meeting she'd be concerned if someone who is gay is hired to replace the retiring Bates. A gay schools boss may wind up fighting "more personal fires than superintendent fires," she said.
She spoke while board members listed their criteria for the next superintendent. Also at that meeting were representatives of School Exec Connect of Highland Park, which is leading the search to replace Bates before the 2015-16 academic year.
Biondi said she raised the issue in general terms on behalf of a District 121 resident she didn't identify and that her comments were taken out of context. She apologized last week "to everyone I offended by my question" and told the Daily Herald she doesn't intend to quit.
Illinois State Board of Elections officials say there is no mechanism to remove a school board member for making controversial comments.
But District 121 board member John Anderson told Tuesday's crowd that school officials may be able to pursue her removal through the Lake County Regional Office of Education.
Biondi, elected to a 4-year term with 31 write-in votes in April 2013, has occasionally clashed with her board colleagues since taking office. There were fewer candidates than available board positions when Biondi ran as a write-in.
In October, board members voted 4-2 that Biondi violated her oath of office by publicly divulging information from a closed-door meeting. Biondi reportedly discussed a personnel matter while attending a meeting of the Warren-Newport Public Library District board.
At a meeting last February, Biondi claimed "someone in the district" wiretapped her telephone.
Her husband, Ray Biondi, was escorted by Gurnee police from a District 121 meeting in September 2013 at Anderson's direction after not immediately complying with a request to not banter with another audience member during public comment.