D86 Board admits fault in First Amendment suit

Hinsdale High School District 86 Board May 28 approved a settlement with several district residents over alleged First Amendment and Open Meetings Act violations. Board President Kevin Camden was the lone dissenter in the 5-1 vote. Board member Kathleen Hirsman was absent.

The suit, filed against the board and then-board President Nancy Pollak, stemmed from a incident at the Dec. 12 board meeting when the residents attempted to read a letter critical of Carol Baker, assistant superintendent for academics. Pollak objected to Patel’s attempt to read it, and a district employee removed the microphone from the podium. Two more parents tried to continue read the letter but were stopped by Pollak, who said the comments were inappropriate.

“The board acknowledges that under the First Amendment and Open Meetings Act, Meeta Patel, Kara Kuo and Kim Notaro should have been allowed to read Dan Levinthal’s letter at the Dec. 12, 2019 board meeting,” said Camden, reading from language in the settlement.

The district also agreed to pay the plaintiffs’ legal costs of $21,000 and to invite Maryam Judar, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center, to give a presentation on the First Amendment and Open Meetings Act at the October board meeting.

In his remarks explaining his “no” vote, Camden said the settlement is “hypocritical” for allowing “bullying” and “harassment” of staff even though the district prohibits that behavior in other contexts.

“We’re going to accept a settlement agreement that essentially says, by virtue of your public employment, you can be pilloried with any comments about you personally or your family, and I don’t support that,” he said, adding that he would ensure the terms of the agreement are met.

The plaintiffs, in a joint statement May 29, expressed disappointment with Camden’s position but were optimistic the resolution would bring about needed changes.

“We are hopeful that despite the commentary made by board President Camden at last night’s meeting, the community will understand that the fault for the lawsuit lies entirely with the members of the board,” they asserted. “We, the plaintiffs, feel that our efforts in opposing the dishonorable way with which the board conducted itself in this matter will result in the community being more confident that their voice will at least be heard in the future, which is the first step in being understood.”

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean