D86 board member files formal complaint

Held accuses Waters of violating board policies during exchange after Oct. 28 meeting

Following an exchange outside of Hinsdale South High School after an Oct. 28 school board meeting, Erik Held has filed a grievance complaint against fellow board member Jeff Waters.

Held sent an email to Hinsdale High School District 86 Superintendent Tammy Prentiss Nov. 4 to file the complaint under the uniform grievance procedure, according to documents posted on the Freedom of Information Act log (dated Nov. 8) on the district's website. In it, he alleges that Waters violated various school board policies by hitting him, threatening him, attempting to intimidate him and using vulgar language.

"Were I a regular member of the community subject to this behavior and not a board member, there is no doubt in my mind we'd hear a loud call for his immediate removal," Held wrote in his email.

Held also sent an email Oct. 29 to Prentiss and board President Terri Walker with a summary of the incident between the two as he recalled it. He said Waters struck him with an open-handed slap.

"A threatening version of a friendly backslap," he wrote. "There was nothing friendly in how it smarted or how he spoke."

He said that Waters accused him of putting words in his mouth during a discussion earlier that night (see sidebar) and indicated Waters used the "F" word six times during the conversation.

The two exchanged more words as they were getting into their cars, according to Held's summary. He said he wanted to tell Waters never to touch him again.

Waters described the exchange as a "non-event."

"Everyone is entitled to invoke school board policy to serve their interests or considerations," Waters said Wednesday. "It would not be a consideration of mine if the tables were turned.

"He's more than within his rights to do what he did. Obviously it's subjective of course," he added.

He denied hitting Held, saying he merely tapped him on the back, and admitted to using the "F" word.

"Both parties are saying some inappropriate things," he said.

Held also claims Waters tried to coerce security guard Chris Cesak to lie by omission, telling him to forget the event ever happened.

Waters offered a different account of the conversation.

"I hope you don't have to make an incident report, but I'm sure that's out of your control," Waters said he told Cesak. "That's literally the only thing that was said."

Cesak wrote in an Oct. 29 email to Kevin Simpson, director of security, and Kurt Bluder, security officer, that he was asked not to mention the incident to anyone by a man whom he thought was Held, but whom he later identified as Waters.

Held would not comment on whether he might pursue civil or criminal action against Waters, options he notes in his complaint.

"Under the UGP, filing a UGP does not remove the ability to pursue any other avenues open for any kind of compliant," he said.

Waters said he hopes the complaint will not serve as a distraction from the good work the board is doing, including the recent unanimous approval of the program of studies for the 2022-23 school year.

"I look forward to volleying from that board approval and continuing with cohesion moving forward and staying focused as a board, with a laser eye on best serving the district's families to most appropriately champion the interest of all district students at both high schools," Waters said.

District policy calls for a complaint manager to be assigned to the case and an investigation to be conducted, with a written report to be filed with the superintendent within 30 school business days after the complaint was filed. In this case, because the complaint involves a board member, the report will be filed with the board.

The complaint will be investigated by a representative of the district's law firm, Chicago-based Franczek PC, according to a district spokesman.

Oct. 28 board discussion

The comment that led to the exchange between Erik Held and Jeff Waters following the Oct. 28 board meeting took place during a discussion of science sequences at the two high schools during that meeting.

Waters and board members Debbie Levinthal and Peggy James, all of whom were elected in April, had objected to the implementation of a "physics first" science sequence at Hinsdale Central. Hinsdale South has taught a physics-chemistry-biology sequences for more than 10 years.

Held and board members Cynthia Hanson and Kathleen Hirsman have supported the new sequence.

During the discussion of the program of studies for 2022-23, Waters questioned the inclusion of earth science in the classes and wondered why the district was following Next Generation Science Standards if they are not mandatory. He also noted the PCB sequence ignores the College Board's recommendation that honors biology should be taken before AP biology.

After listening to an explanation from Chris Covino, assistant superintendent for academics, Waters asked again about Next Generation standards versus College Board standards.

Held said Waters was holding the College Board to a higher standard and ignoring the experiences at South, where students have been successful and enrolled in S.T.E.M. majors in college.

"We cannot preference Hinsdale Central over Hinsdale South," Held said. "They have to be equal in our minds when we're making decisions.

"What I heard is Central wants this, so let's slap South in the face and say, 'They've been doing it wrong,' " he added.

"I definitely did not say that," Waters responded. "What I've always maintained is that BCP straight up vanilla, without the swirl of earth science, and physics first, these are both phenomenal tracks. To quote Principal Pokorny ... it works for you guys, right? BCP can work for our district as well, all students in the district, as I maintained publicly. You're incorrect. I never said one thing about pro-Central, anti-South. Don't put those words in my mouth."

Author Bio

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean