By Nona Tepper
During an emotional school board meeting on April 12, a group of parents alleged Forest Park District 91 administration officials forced the resignations of two special education teachers at Betsy Ross Elementary School over disagreements they had with the school's principal. The parents also vowed to move their families out of Forest Park because the teachers are no longer in the district.
The school board approved the resignation of special education teachers, along with other employees of District 91, without comment as part of the board's consent agenda. Per a request from the special education teachers, the Review has removed their names from this article over fear that publicly naming them will impact their chances of future employment. Their resignation will be effective Aug. 1.
Because the board is limited by an Illinois law that states the administration cannot publicly discuss personnel issues, District 91 Superintendent Louis Cavallo declined to directly address the issue with the some 15 parents and students who attended the meeting.
"You're breaking the community and you're breaking this town," Heather Lindstrom, whose daughter, Grace, is in the special education program at Betsy Ross, told the seven school board members and other administrators at the meeting.
Repeating "this is not what it appears" and that there were "no politics involved whatsoever," Cavallo stressed to parents that the two teachers would be replaced, adding that District 91 might even hire another special education teacher at Betsy Ross, since the program is set to double to 15 students next year.
Lindstrom called the two teachers irreplaceable, and said they have helped Grace make academic and social progress she was never expected to make in her lifetime. She said she'll probably move from Forest Park now that Betsy Ross' special education program has changed, and added that the feeling was mutual among the six other families whose children are in the program.
"I give up; they win. I give in to their dirty politics," Lindstrom said.
She was joined by her husband, David, who said he met with Betsy Ross Principal William Milnamow and Grace's teachers earlier in the day.
David Lindstrom believes Milnamow gave the teachers two options: resign or be fired.
He said their resignation stems from disagreements they had with the principal and alleges there was a "secret meeting" between Cavallo and Milnamow, where the two decided to force the teachers to leave. Cavallo said there was no secret meeting.
"I'm really disappointed in the fact that this backdoor politicking is going on and to see that this forced resignation is being voted on and approved by you people," Lindstrom told the board. "We already had to pull one child out because of bullying, now I have to fear for the safety of another child."
While asking board members to reflect on their decision, Samara Condon, whose son, Carter, is a part of the special education program, showed the seven board members a picture of her son, because "I think it's something to talk about these kids, but it's something else to see their face."
Like the Lindstroms, Condon said she will probably move from Forest Park thanks to the change at Betsy Ross.
"I really hope that the decision was made with the kids' best decision at heart, because my son is everything to me," she said.
The board also chose not to renew a contract with Maureen Skelton, an art teacher at Betsy-Ross who has taught at District 91 for 21 years. In an April 13 phone interview, Skelton said that Milnamow told her through email that she would be losing her job, after giving her a "needs improvement" with no chance of remediation on her professional evaluation this year. Skelton said she has been evaluated every year for 20 years by three different principals and never had a problem. This represents her first time being evaluated by Milnamow, she said.
"It's really hard to be here today. The kids are loving on me, and it's hard, it's emotional," she said.
She said Milnamow started out the year asking her for documents that he didn't request from other teachers — her lesson plans for the entire year, for example — and also told her that all art projects had to start and end within her hour-long class. "Art is a process," she said. "Sometimes you gotta let the glue dry before you can add the color."
She added: "I feel targeted."
Milnamow declined to comment on personnel issues.
The board also approved the resignations of a special education teacher and an art teacher at Forest Park Middle School.
The school board chose not to renew the contracts of a part-time art teacher at Betsy Ross and Field Stevenson School, and a full-time third-year teacher at Grant-White School.
This article has been updated to reflect that the Board decided not to renew the contract for a third-year teacher. The Review removed the names of the two special education teachers who resigned over fears that the article would negatively impact their chances of future employment.