U-46 trustees squabble over social media policy

  • Elgin Area School District U-46 school board member Jeanette Ward has filed a complaint with the Attorney General's office accusing the school board of an Open Meetings Act violation.

    Elgin Area School District U-46 school board member Jeanette Ward has filed a complaint with the Attorney General's office accusing the school board of an Open Meetings Act violation. Daily Herald File Photo

  • U-46 school board President Donna Smith said Monday an outside counsel has been retained to respond to a complaint by board member Jeanette Ward to the Attorney General's office about an Open Meetings Act violation.

    U-46 school board President Donna Smith said Monday an outside counsel has been retained to respond to a complaint by board member Jeanette Ward to the Attorney General's office about an Open Meetings Act violation. Daily Herald File Photo

  • "We ought to be holding ourselves to a higher standard," said U-46 school board member Traci O'Neal Ellis about a social media policy being considered by the board for its members.

    "We ought to be holding ourselves to a higher standard," said U-46 school board member Traci O'Neal Ellis about a social media policy being considered by the board for its members. Courtesy of Traci Ellis

 
 
Posted2/27/2018 5:33 AM

Elgin Area School District U-46 school board members squabbled Monday night about a proposed social media policy that one board member views as an attempt to muzzle her comments.

School board member Jeanette Ward has filed a complaint with the Attorney General's office accusing the school board of violating the state's Open Meetings Act during a Feb. 3 self-evaluation by discussing how to prevent her from posting on social media, board President Donna Smith said Monday night.

 

Smith said outside legal counsel is preparing a response to Ward's complaint as required by the Public Access office of the Attorney General.

"We will send a copy of the audio of the meeting with the response," Smith said.

Board members who attended the Feb. 3 self-evaluation agreed on rules of board governance, including purpose and protocols, trustees' roles and responsibilities, and a code of conduct. Among the agreed-upon codes was that "board members will carefully consider what they post on social media before they post it, avoiding statements that might be volatile."

Ward declined to attend that meeting, but on Monday questioned "what constitutes volatile" for social media posts.

Smith said board members should be careful about what they post on social media no matter what.

"All boards have policies," she said. "They are aspirations agreed upon on how board members want to conduct themselves. There is no other way to hold board members accountable. The only consequence that you can have on this is in a voting booth."

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After debate over whether "volatile" should be taken out, officials decided to leave the set of agreements as is for a vote at the next meeting.

Board member Traci O'Neal Ellis criticized Ward for boycotting the Feb. 3 self-evaluation saying she ought to have raised concerns there.

"You didn't respect this board enough to show up and debate with us," Ellis said.

Ward said the reason she did not attend the meeting was because "I have not been shown respect during those board self-evaluations."

"I believe there are things covered in those board self -valuations that are not appropriate to be discussed in closed session," she added.

Ward, who was elected in May 2015, previously accused the board of violating the Open Meetings Act during at a Jan. 25, 2014, closed meeting.

That meeting also was a board self-evaluation with the help of an Illinois Association of School Boards official, and included an evaluation of then-Superintendent Jose Torres, who resigned in August 2014 to head the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

After reviewing the audio recording, Ward maintained "inappropriate discussions took place."

Ellis and Ward also have squabbled before on each other's controversial social media posts.

"This doesn't restrict anybody from doing anything at all," Ellis said. "We ought to be holding ourselves to a higher standard."

Ellis and board member Veronica Noland also criticized Ward for calling out CEO Tony Sanders on social media rather than in private.

Ward defended her actions, saying if Sanders makes comments in public, then she has the right to scrutinize him publicly.

"My employer are the people who elected me and I'm going to continue doing what I have been doing," she said.

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