Slate of parents who want fully open schools try to unseat incumbents in District 214
Since forming in 2007, a slate of establishment candidates for the Northwest Suburban High School District 214 board of education has gone undefeated in local elections.
But a group of parents, fueled by their desire to reopen schools since last summer, have formed a four-person slate of their own in hopes of upending the long streak of incumbency.
Four 4-year terms on the school board are up for grabs in the April 6 election.
While the reopening issue continues to reverberate across the district as schools prepare to welcome back more students the day before Election Day, the competing slates have debated even the way they debate, amid accusations from the parents group that current board members are a rubber stamp.
"I believe firmly that as much as we should collaborate, there should be some tension in the line," said Rich Menninga, an IT sales professional from Arlington Heights. "We shouldn't just always agree. I think disagreement and vigorous debate often leads to better outcomes."
"It's now time to have some independence to break away from all these 7-0 votes and basically the groupthink that's gone on," said Menninga, who is running with the District 214 Parents for Kids group, composed of four current district parents.
Those on the Supporters of District 214 slate -- which includes three incumbents and one newcomer -- say the current board does have animated disagreements, but it's often in closed session, and that many of their board votes are unanimous because there's been initial discussion and changes to proposals first.
"We're a very effective board," said Mark Hineman, a Mount Prospect engineer who has been on the elected panel for 12 years. "We don't rubber-stamp things."
The parents group says it was the reopening issue that prompted them to start showing up to board meetings beginning last August, and eventually file paperwork to run for office.
Elizabeth Bauer, an actuary and blogger from Arlington Heights, said families felt like "we all had the rug pulled out from under us" when district officials decided to start the school year remotely, despite an initial hybrid plan that included some in-person learning.
"They did not let the data guide their decision making. They let fear, worries and an abundance of caution," Bauer said, adding that the decision led to kids suffering from mental health issues and lower grades.
Jacqueline Ryan, an AbbVie project manager from Arlington Heights, called the district's e-learning a "failure," and its approach during the pandemic an "overreaction."
"The safetyism and the paternalism that we have exhibited through our schools and state public policy has led us to where we are today," Ryan said. "It's an extreme approach."
Tony Rosselli, a business development and sales professional from Arlington Heights, said if elected he would bring transparency and accountability to the board.
"What we're doing to our children by pandering to unions and not really working and going off of evidence-based science is really hurting our kids," Rosselli said.
But the current board members paint a different picture.
Lenny Walker, a floral company executive from Wheeling elected four year ago, said while the board's 6-1 August vote to start the year remotely was a tough decision, it's always been the goal to get every student back in school full-time, and to do it safely. That led to inviting more kids back in January, while the district has made outreach to students dealing with mental health issues, he said.
"We've provided the best education possible given the restrictions that we had," Walker said.
Millie Palmer, an Arlington Heights attorney and four-year incumbent, said she understands the pandemic from multiple perspectives, having lost her brother to COVID-19, and with her daughter's college dance team competition getting canceled.
"I understand loss. I understand what's happened this year is not fair. And if I could fix COVID I would. I really would," Palmer said.
"But what I can do is make reasoned decisions, work the problem, and try and pay attention to what's going on and what our options are. I can ask questions. I can read materials. I can listen to the parents as they come to speak. I can give time and effort and what I have to try and make a difference."
Andrea Rauch, a scientist at Honeywell and current district parent from Arlington Heights, said she chose to join the Supporters of District 214 slate when she was asked "because I believe in what they have done and what they hope to do."
She said that's included their hiring of Superintendent David Schuler, who was named 2018 National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators.
"There's a lot that goes into the decision-making. I think it needs to be very objective and very informative," Rauch said.
"And I think the board has been doing that."