Libertyville District 70 leaders say no more 'hateful' emails
The pending start of school in Libertyville Elementary District 70 will come with familiar and new wrinkles, as well as a message of unity to parents.
And leaders say untrue and offensive emails perpetuate divisions in the community and won't be tolerated.
"I know that we are living in a very polarized time," Superintendent Matt Barbini said Monday during a preview of the upcoming school year. "I'm encouraging everybody to let bygones be bygones and put differences aside. I think it's absolutely essential that we focus on what matters."
That message came after weeks of heated debate in District 70 -- and districts across the suburbs -- about whether students should be required to wear masks when classes resume this month.
The district was bracing for more contention at Monday's meeting, but that was averted when Gov. J.B. Pritzker imposed a mask mandate for schools last week.
In remarks to open the meeting, school board President Wendy Schilling said she had hoped the discussion could be cordial. But she said she would be remiss not to comment on recent email exchanges and Twitter posts.
"No matter what decision we made, some group or individuals would be unhappy. I understood this, as did the board and superintendent," she said.
"What we collectively did not expect was the hateful and mean-spirited responses we all received."
Messages sent directly to school board members and others have been troubling, Schilling said.
"It's easy for those who want to slander the district, the superintendent, and even the teachers to do so by using fake Twitter accounts or behind the somewhat protective cover of emails," she said. "But this has only added to the already divided community."
Some of the messages accused Barbini of crimes against children and included other "untruths" and "nonsensical allegations" that won't be tolerated or responded to, Schilling said.
"We're trying to bring the community back together, and it's very difficult when we get emails like that," she said.
"I just believe people needed to hear just how dark some of these emails are."
With the resumption of in-person meetings, the school board voted to drop emails as a form of public comment but to continue accepting voice mails for now.
Board policy does not require public comments other than those made in person, Schilling said. But the board began accepting written comments to be read and voicemails to be played publicly when it began holding virtual meetings early in the pandemic. Doing so added hours to meetings at times.
Board Vice President Travis McGhee said there should be an alternative for those who can't make it to a meeting but want to comment.
"It's very clear there's still a pandemic and there's still concern in the community," he said. Those who use voice mail should "do it respectfully, do it with decorum," he said.