Board of Education Meeting Recap: March 9, 2021


Board of Education Meeting Zoom screen.

By Emily Chin, Staff Writer

At the beginning of each month, the Niles Township School Board of Education hosts a meeting that’s open to the public to discuss current issues and complaints within the community.

The meeting opens up with a 30-minute overview from student representatives at both Niles West and Niles North, discussing which student-held events will be occurring in the upcoming weeks.

After, Jim Szczepaniak, Director of Community Relations and Strategic Partners, reads off public comments that have been received from the community. The comments read relate to topics of racial disparity within the community, in-person attendance at school events, and remote learning, and more.

One family in the Niles Township community expressed the need to unite community members to fight against racial inequality.

“We are new homeowners to the area and must voice our concern over the radical disparities that exist in school district 219….These instances of inequality that have been reported in school district 219 have troubled us and our issues. We will always continue to address until there is equality for all Americans…what we seek to heal our hopes are for the staff of school district 219 unite and establish a strong foundation support to foster life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all students of this growing district in community with respect.” 

Two community members stressed the importance of returning to a five full-day schedule and the hardships faced with being online.

“There is an urgent need to get students back to a five day a week full-day schedule. This is important for both their academic success and their long-term mental health. Teachers were given preferential access to vaccines, and yet students continue to be ignored while you the D219 administration school board sit and hide behind your screens. Anything short of five full days of school this August will be inadequate and unacceptable. Please do not act like you have our students’ best interest in mind when you do not solicit or listen to our comments at all.” 

“I can’t speak for others but certainly can speak for our own child that the social and emotional toll this has taken was really hard. I understand that there are families who chose to have their child learning remotely for various reasons and I truly respect that. With that said we have seen the metrics decrease as many are being vaccinated why can’t we have a choice for those that wish to increase in-person instructional time.” 

Others suggested to board members the need for leniency at athletic events, graduation, and prom.

“We are asking for full-time in-person learning now parents must be allowed to attend all home games for every level: freshmen, sophomores, JV, and varsity athletic teams. Graduation must be in-person outside on the football field with parents in attendance, prom to be conducted like a Lalapalooza style event on the football field, tax refunds like Naperville schools are issuing. We do not want to hear about a robust fee summer school program. No more excuses, blaming teachers’ unions, Skokie Health Department, etc., and not enough community outcry. We have been calling, emailing with no one listening. Are you listening now?” 

The topic of discussion then moved to an audit of Niles Townships’ financial statements. Kevin Smith, an auditor, reads an analysis of the audit and how spending towards the fund financial statement has decreased while government-wide financial payment has increased.

“Over for the report itself, footnote wise, no significant changes….Overall it’s going to look very similar to what they have been in the past, aside from the updated numbers and dates. Really they’re going to follow the same format that they have in past years, so other than that those are the things I like to hit on,” Smith said.

Smith claims that the audit on Niles Township’s financial statements is nothing too extremely overwhelming. Though there is a decrease in one category of spending and an increase in the other, the statement looks very similar to past financial statements.

Within the hour and a half mark, board members began a continuation of the Feb. 9, 2021 meeting, reviewing recommended policy changes. Many were small clean-up, clarification, and reference changes, but one of the biggest was an addition to an agenda item, 2:220-AP2.

The change would make it more accessible for board members to bring up agenda items without having to wait for the next regular board meeting. It gives more time, flexibility, and chances to have access to adding to the agenda but doesn’t guarantee that the topic will be discussed but instead considered.

In the last hour, the members discuss the concerns on adhering to public comments. Because of COVID-19, there have been more community members expressing their concerns, and being online, the ability to comment has been more accessible. The majority of the board members agree that there is a slight communication problem with the public.

“As individual board members, we aren’t empowered with the ability to respond. To be honest we don’t know if there’s been a response and if there was a response, what that response was. And again not that we need to know every detail of every response but it seems like a big gap that we have. We ask for public comments, we have people bringing it, and if we’re not responding to it then I mean that’s ridiculous,” Vice President of the Board, Jill Manrique said.

There is no easy solution to this fix since it comes with limitations, but board members are actively looking into ways to make sure all public comments will be replied to.

The meeting ended with a report from superintendent, Steven Isoye. The report consisted of student return information, staff vaccinations, winter sports stats, and possible plans to reopen on a larger scale.

“We are looking at the return of spectators at our sporting events yesterday. The Illinois IDPH changed outside spectator guiltiness for 50 to 20% of the capacity of the venue whether it’s a stadium or field. The capacity for inside events remain at 50 total and limited to home spectators. So based on these guidelines we were in the process of finalizing a plan to transition spectators at our spring sporting events….Who knows what could happen in a couple of weeks in terms of what the guidance says and what they’re looking at in regards to larger groups? So we are constantly monitoring what’s happening there.” Isoye said.

The next board meeting will be on April 7, 2021. For more information about the board of education, you can visit the D219 website to find recordings, policies, and future meeting dates. A recording of the three-hour-long zoom recording of the March 9, 2021 meeting can be found on the D219 TV website.