Two Betsy Ross special ed teachers resign

Parents allege teachers were forced to leave over disagreements with principal

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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. 


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Janelle Morales from Forest Park  

Posted: April 21st, 2018 6:14 AM

I'm a mom with a special needs child in the special needs program at Field Stevenson Middle school. It was a really hard beginning because the school was no where near prepared to take on our (special needs) kids. We learned to work side by side and with compromise, dedication from hard working teachers and yes even lawyers to finally reach our goals for my daughter. It's hard enough to try to do the day to day without having to fight the people who are hopefully trying to help. Her teacher and team are wonderful and I am for the first time feeling like she's making progress. We also lost good teachers along the way but we knew eventually she would have to have new opportunities with the next teacher. Change is the only constant in this life and to be honest that's how we grow and learn. I know many people don't like our schools and move, The grass is always greener, there will be battles wherever you go. Just keep choosing which to fight because they won't all be won. It makes me sad people lose their jobs, people don't get along, politics playing into our school system, failing schools, closed communication policies between board and teachers and parents/superintendent. The list goes on....

Bob Snyder from forest park  

Posted: April 20th, 2018 11:08 PM

It sounds like the Principal just wanted to "clean House" I was a teacher for 30 years and have watched this kind of politics take place. It saddens me to know that good teachers left because the Principal had a burr up his butt. I have taught Special Ed for 15 years and this guy has no idea as to how difficult it is. These teachers are not a dine a dozen. It takes lots of patience and love to work with theses children. I would love to see how he reacts when he would work with theses children. POWER PLAY. We also need art. Was she not tenured?

Kathy Kucia from Forest Park  

Posted: April 14th, 2018 1:07 PM

Teachers are the back bone of the school. Education is as much about relationships as it is about academics. Administrators sitting in offices are more often than not, are the ones who are inept. Most spent a relatively short time as classroom teachers and moved into administrative positions to make more money. The Board members are elected by the citizens to be stewards over our schools. They should be listening to all parties, including the parents, students and teachers, not just exclusively to the superintendent and administrators. It looks like their was definitely an agenda and power play. The losers will be the students who were well served by these dedicated professionals.

Liz Simpson from Prescott Valley  

Posted: April 14th, 2018 11:34 AM

I live in Arizona but my husband has been a teacher for years. This problem is prevalent in many districts. The issue with the art teacher, probably due to either a personality clash and he power played her to get her out and now can hire a newbie for a fraction of the cost. The issue with the sped teachers...of course those backdoor meetings happen. They happened to my husband. A few years ago he was coaching a team and they wanted to replace him with someone with different strategies. They needed his PE position to offer his job to a new coach. He had done nothing wrong in either position, was even winning in with his team but disagreed with the AD, so they went through the process of poor reviews and "needs improvement" to then get him to either resign or be fired from teaching and coaching. It was horrendous. We had a 3 month old baby at the time. absolutely happens. People protested our board but they gave the same song and dance too. Nothing changes. These bullies do whatever they want. And they get away with it all the time.

Sheila Janis  

Posted: April 14th, 2018 9:53 AM

I write this comment from several perspectives. I have been a Forest Park resident for twenty years and both my kids went to D91 schools (the youngest is about to graduate from PMSA). I also work in education with over twenty years (not d91) of experience. And finally, I am the sister of the Art teacher being let go. The actions of the district concern me on many levels. With enrollment down, is this the district's answer to save money? Are they planning on cutting out Art all together and merge special education classes? My sister has been a dedicated educator in D91 for 21 years, yet her position (along with the other art teachers) have never been made full time, why is that? Does the district not value Art education? I have always been concerned for my sister's job security due to the district's short sidedness in not making her position full time (which leaves her unable to obtain tenure, thus leaving her vulnerable to being terminated with no protections- which is exactly what happened). Twenty years of yearly evaluations that showed her as proficient, yet one bad evaluation and she is let go?? It is clear that this principal had an agenda from the beginning of the school year and that this was personal. Enrollment is down, and all signs appear that it will continue to drop yet there seems to be more administrators (who are paid and a higher scale than teachers) than ever. Seems if they want to 'trim the fat' they should start at the top. I'm grateful that my children were able to attend d91 when it was a thriving district that valued its students and teachers. I'm saddened at what it has become. I hope that parents and teachers can unite and fight for our kids. On a personal note, I am heartbroken for my sister who loved her job, loved her students and loved teaching her craft, it is truly a loss for the district.

Mari Mortensen from Forest Park  

Posted: April 14th, 2018 9:15 AM

The integrity and value of a school board is based on their knowledge of the daily life of the school community and not solely information from administrators. Who came up with the assumption that Board members and teachers should never talk to each other? The community would be well served by Board members who spend time in their school, talking with teachers and observing first hand the challenges teachers face in serving the diverse needs of students. As a special education social worker, I have witnessed the effects of administrators acting without accountability from an informed school board. The lack of transparency and accountability is the shredding machine of the careers of teachers who disagree with them. What would teachers be asking for that would result in a stand-off? Most often it is about the needs of students and a willingness to tackle tough subjects that might cause controversy. No one knows better than parents which teachers have the best interests of their children. There will always be that one over-the-top parent, but when a group of parents attest to the value of a teacher, therein lies the truth.

Sarah Anderson  

Posted: April 14th, 2018 6:20 AM

Maybe it is time the taxpayers a.k.a the employers of this superintendent and principal tell the school board it is time for replacements? Power in numbers. Get everyone involved. And these teachers should get attorneys

Simone Hanner  

Posted: April 13th, 2018 9:31 PM

I am the mother of one of the children that will be affected by this. Having a teacher you can trust is so important, especially in special education. These teachers are beyond amazing and will be hard to replace! My heart breaks to see them go! From what I hear, the teachers themselves were not even given a reason. By the time any of us parents heard what was going on it was pretty much a done deal. An all around upsetting situation.

Evangeline Valhalla from Forest Park  

Posted: April 13th, 2018 7:19 PM

Well, this all just sounds hideous. I'm sorry for the children who are going to be hurt by this. I also don't like the art teachers being let go. Art is an important subject and one of those teachers has lengthy experience. I'm sad the district made such decisions.

Rina Petersen  

Posted: April 13th, 2018 4:53 PM

I am saddened by this news. Both of our kids went to Betsy and we had a very good experience overall.

Molly Marie  

Posted: April 13th, 2018 4:41 PM

We moved from Forest Park several years ago because of this principal. We loved preschool at Garfield, but less than one year at Betsy had us getting our house ready to sell and we were gone before the beginning of first grade.

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