Published March 26, 2015
Outside investigator will file report on incident with Manley
By Pamela Lannom
An outside party is investigating whether board policy was violated March 12 and 13 when board member Claudia Manley responded to a student who was passing out campaign literature at Hinsdale South for school board candidates in the April 7 election.
A parent and a student have lodged complaints about the incident, according to Superintendent Bruce Law.
“Obviously the complicating factor here is the parent also happens to be a board member and the board is my employer, so I am in a very difficult situation,” Law said at Monday night’s board meeting.
Legal counsel recommended the district bring in an outside investigator and recommended a person who has experience in gathering information in school districts and reporting the findings.
The investigator will look only at whether board policy regarding on-campus behavior by an individual was violated, Law said Monday.
“After that is completed, what the board does with it will be up to the board,” he said. “My role is to make sure that students are safe on campus, to make sure that everyone on campus is safe.”
Because he is employed by the board, Law said he has no authority to take any action against Manley as a board member. He said it is important she be treated fairly.
“Claudia should get no privilege any other parent shouldn’t get,” he said Tuesday. “On the other hand, I need to make sure she gets the due process any other parent would get.”
Law confirmed at the meeting that the incident was captured on video by one of the school’s security cameras.
“Make the security video public so we can decide what kind of board of education member is representing us,” Rich Brandeis of Darien urged the board during public comment.
The district Wednesday denied a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the video, citing a clause that “prohibits the disclosure of personal information contained within public records if such disclosure constitutes a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
Hinsdale South student Marissa Dupont was passing out campaign literature supporting Bill Carpenter, Kathleen Hirsman and Jennifer Planson on March 12 and 13 when Manley reportedly told her she was violating district policy.
Mary Sullivan, an adult who was with Dupont at the time of the incident, said Monday that they had received permission from school administrators to pass out material, and they did so only to people who wanted to receive it.
“Mrs. Manley launched into a verbal attack like none I have ever witnessed,” Sullivan said, calling it shocking and upsetting, and noting Manley’s absence from the meeting. “I am still waiting on my apology from Mrs. Manley. Where is she? She hasn’t even bothered to show up. She somehow feels she has the right to bully us. That is wrong.”
Dupont talked Monday about the wonderful experience she has had at Hinsdale South.
“I would never have guessed something so ridiculous could happen outside those very same doors,” she said.
She reported 1,200 students parents and concerned community members had signed a petition calling for Manley’s resignation and asked board members to think of how they would respond if a student or teacher had behaved as Manley did.
“There is a code of conduct in District 86 and everyone needs to be held to it,” Dupont said, as the audience rose to its feet and cheered.
Her father, Mike, pleaded with the board to ask Manley to resign.
“If Mrs. Manley does not resign, the board needs to do something to get rid of her, plain and simple, he said.
Her mother, Paula, a 12-year board member and 10-year board president in Community Consolidated Elementary District 180, said she believed the whole incident could be summarized in three words: “adults behaving badly.”
“Each of you serves at the community’s pleasure, and I think I can state confidently tonight the community is not pleased,” she said.
Unprofessional behavior at board meetings is one thing, she said.
“When that behavior leaves the board room and lashes out at a student ... you have crossed the line,” she said, criticizing board President Richard Skoda, who is running for reelection, for choosing to remain silent instead of condemning Manley’s behavior.
Several audience members also blamed Skoda for his lack of comment regarding online posts by his campaign manager, Bob Bland, who referred to Marissa Dupont as disrespectful, uppity, shrill, smarmy and a tart.
“If find it a little hypocritical that we’re not allowed to make certain judgments about certain board members yet I think student Marissa was tried in the media, tried by your very own campaign manager,” said Mike Wychocki of Hinsdale. “I think your lack of comment on it is tacit approval.”
He and others encouraged Skoda to give back the $10,000 Bland donated to his campaign, and several called for Skoda to fire Bland.
Skoda defended Bland, saying he wasn’t aware of the more derogatory definition of “tart” and has since apologized.
“Mr. Robert Bland is one of the finest people I know. He is an old-fashioned guy,” Skoda said. “Once again with the word he used, he was totally ignorant of his meaning.”
For now, no outside individuals or groups will be allowed to “distribute literature, demonstrate or engage in nonschool related activities” on district property during student arrival or dismissal time, according to a statement Law issued Monday.
Students are prohibited from the same activities while people are arriving or leaving board meetings or other evening activities.
The rules will be in place until the board adopts a policy that “explicitly states the parameters for outside groups engaging in political or other activities on district property” to prevent disruptions, the notice states.
Carpenter, Hirsman and Planson are running as a slate against Skoda, Frederick Cappetta and Greg Gershuny. Manley typically votes in agreement with Skoda and board members Victor Casini and Ed Corcoran, while Planson and board members Kay Gallo and Mike Kuhn are often aligned in opposition.