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Dispute over District U46 closed-session recording continues

Debate over release of a recording of an Elgin-based U46 school board closed session continued Monday, when board member Jeanette Ward raised the question about the recording of the January 25, 2014 meeting.

“For me, it’s not about bickering, it’s about principles and there are principles worth standing up for,” Ward said during the Monday board of education meeting. “I’d like to reiterate that access to closed-session recordings has always been about transparency. That’s why I asked that the January 25, 2014 closed-session meeting be made public during our last meeting.”

One person who attended the meeting asked if the board could focus on the issues in the schools that affect her child and others in the district.

Ward said she appreciates the public’s comments regarding the matter and their interest in addressing elected officials.

Ward noted that her request to place the discussion topic on the Monday night agenda was denied. She said she wants it made clear she would like to work it out as a board.

Board president Donna Smith said the reason why the matter was withheld from Monday’s agenda was because there wasn’t any discussion of that between the other elected officials, and that needs to occur before they vote to make it a discussion topic.

Board member Phil Costello said he thinks the matter should be made an agenda item.

“I think it’s in our policy that we have to consider that as a matter before we discard the tapes,” he said. “I think that we have to look at that as a board—not as an individual—as a board.”

Ward noted that during the last board meeting, she was told she had plenty of recourse and if need be, she should use it. She said her actions to push for the public release of the recording is her first step at using her recourse.

Ward asked if there is a reason beyond confidentiality as to why the recording of meeting won’t be released as she requested.

“I see no legal reasons why that tape still needs to be secret,” she said.

“The January 25, 2014 meeting was legally held in closed-session with an (Illinois Association School Board) representative there,” Smith said. “The contents of the meeting should still be held confidential, which we reiterated at the beginning of listening to the tapes. I believe that I, nor anyone, should be discussing this or any other closed-session meeting issues in a public setting.”

Smith added that she is uncomfortable with having the discussion.

“I do believe that we have a responsibility until we as a board decide that something becomes public… we have the responsibility of keeping that confidential, whether we like it or not,” Smith said.

Board member Traci O’Neal Ellis asked if putting the item on the agenda would make a difference.

“I still say that it’s not going to be over,” she said. “Until someone files something, it’s not over.”

The board will proceed with more discussion at the Aug. 15 meeting. During that time, officials will also vote on the release of the full closed-session recording and the board self-evaluation portion of the Jan. 25, 2014 meeting.

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