West Chicago District 94 to reconsider memorial policy after tree honoring graduate was removed
It is too costly to preserve all class gifts and memorials accumulated over the past 93 years at West Chicago High School, officials said Tuesday, "and therefore impossible to do."
But District 94 officials admit they mishandled the removal of a plaque and tree planted in honor of former student Amanda Meiborg and say they will review and likely rework their policy concerning memorials in the wake of the resulting controversy.
The tree and plaque were removed, without consulting Amanda's family, to make room for a construction project at the school.
Amanda was a valedictorian in 2002, but her life was cut short in October 2003 when she died at age 19 from a rare form of cancer.
The tree was planted in her honor on the west side of the school and served as a memorial with a plaque at its base.
But when Amanda's mother, Lee Ann Meiborg, visited the site on June 3, she discovered the tree and plaque had been removed. It took numerous calls and emails before the plaque was found and returned to her.
School board President Renee Yackey called Lee Ann Meiborg Monday night after the Daily Herald posted a story about what happened. Yackey admitted the district's initial response was "insensitive" but said Meiborg was "extremely gracious" and appreciated having someone from the district reach out.
"Once I was made aware of the memorial tree situation yesterday, I reached out to Ms. Meiborg via phone," Yackey said in a written statement emailed to the Daily Herald. "She expressed to me her disappointment with how it was handled, in that she was not notified prior to the tree coming down.
"This memorial for her daughter meant a great deal to her and she visited it often. I apologized for the school's oversight and insensitivity in how this was handled. I also shared with her that the board will be evaluating how memorials will be handled in the future."
Yackey said she expects the school board to discuss better ways to handle memorials. She said her own view is that it should encourage scholarships or awards that can be passed down rather than plantings or structures.
In a separate statement, officials said the district is in the second phase of construction projects approved by voters in a 2017 referendum request. The project includes a second-floor addition to the 1999 wing on the school's west side and necessitated the removal of trees and vegetation -- including Amanda's memorial.
"While we have been the grateful recipients of many class gifts and memorials in the 93-year history of our building, it would be costly to the taxpayers to preserve them all indefinitely, and therefore impossible to do so," the statement reads. "We are a school with changing needs to accommodate our growing population, therefore there is no place on our campus that is exempt from modification."
"Our hearts go out to Ms. Meiborg and family and countless friends as they mourn Amanda's loss and search for another memorial location," the statement reads.
In an emotional message on Facebook, Lee Ann Meiborg had written the removal of the tree "cuts another tie to Amanda."
On Monday, Superintendent Douglas Domeracki said he didn't know why the family wasn't informed about the memorial's removal.