Judge rules Villa Park school board violated Open Meetings Act
Villa Park Elementary District 45 violated the state's Open Meetings Act when it did not read guests' written comments aloud or attach them to the minutes of several meetings, a DuPage County judge has ruled.
Judge Anne Hayes ruled on Oct. 11 on a lawsuit filed a year ago by a resident Erica Militello.
According to the lawsuit, for school board meetings conducted on Zoom starting on Aug. 9, 2021, people were invited to submit any statements they wanted to make during public comment in writing. People could also make oral comments during the meetings. Commenters were required to send their comments or register to comment by 1 p.m., more than five hours before the meetings.
But instead of reading the 18 written comments out loud for the meeting, a board member read the first name and initial of the last name of the commenter; what they were commenting about; and in some cases, a position the commenter took.
The board did not affix the comments to the minutes of the meeting.
The same thing happened at subsequent meetings.
The lawsuit contended the signup deadline, the summarization of the written comments and not making the full written comments part of the official record violated state law.
District 45 argued that summarizing the contents was done to save time. But Hayes noted the comments were brief and that the board already had rules governing time for public comment.
The district also said it didn't read the comments aloud to avoid having it look like a board member endorsed a person's remarks. The judge said that was illogical, especially because the comments would be attributed to the commenter.
The district also argued it did not want the reader to have to say profanities or "other objectionable" comments. It said that during an Aug. 3, 2021, in-person meeting, commenters used profanities, and one made racist comments. The judge noted, however, that none of the written comments contained profanities.
Hayes ruled that the signup deadline did not violate state law.
The meetings occurred during a time of turmoil.
The Aug. 3, 2021, in-person school board meeting, where a controversial vote on whether to require students to wear face masks was scheduled, was delayed when some attendees refused to wear face masks. Then a scuffle broke out in a hallway. The board adjourned the meeting to Aug. 9, 2021, and met solely online.
In a news release, Militello said, "the public was making a point about disagreeing with several policies, one of them being opposed to mandatory mask-wearing by children. But the school board refused to read the public's comments during the meeting. The disaster is how this school board runs their meetings."
District 45 spokesman Tom Jackson said the district received the ruling Tuesday.
"We are pleased that the court ruled in the district's favor on several issues," Jackson said, "and we are reviewing the decision with legal counsel to assess our next steps."