Equity consultant says no thanks to job

Valbrun Consulting owner cites visit here, nasty messages as reasons why she withdrew

Hinsdale High School District 86 is not an environment in which Valda Valbrun of Valbrun Consulting wants to work.

Superintendent Tammy Prentiss read a letter at the Jan. 13 school board meeting from Valbrun, indicating she was withdrawing her firm’s name from consideration. Valbrun had been recommended by the district’s Culture and Equity in Leadership Team, which seeks to hire a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant to work in the district.

In her statement, Valbrun cites her treatment when she came to Hinsdale for an in-person interview and the “vitriol and lack of professionalism” in direct messages she received from residents as among the reasons she decided to withdraw.

“I got several messages yesterday and really think Hinsdale is a dangerous place and would not be physically comfortable there,” Valbrun wrote in her letter.

Audience members laughed when Prentiss read the word “dangerous” and offered loud applause and cheers when she finished reading the statement.

Valbrun, who watched some of the meeting online, told The Hinsdalean last week she was appalled at the behavior of audience members.

“I’ve never seen such disgusting behavior at a board meeting,” she said.

In a statement, Prentiss said the administration agrees with Valbrun’s assessment of community members’ behavior, calling it “abhorrent and inexcusable.”

“As we have stated clearly, repeatedly and emphatically, one of the main goals of our equity work is to create an environment where everyone is not only treated with compassion, dignity and respect, but also feels safe and welcome,” Prentiss state.

Valbrun said after responding to the district’s request for a proposal and attending an in-person interview, she was told she would receive the contract. She then began getting requests from Hinsdale parents on Twitter to make her social media public. A board member subsequently notified her that other board members had seen her August Facebook post calling three Republicans “devils” and expressing her desire that the party would implode.

Valbrun said she’s not sure why people continued to send her messages after she withdrew her firm from consideration.

“I need these people to leave me alone,” she said.

“Why is this even an issue?” she asked. “If a vendor pulls out because you guys don’t want me there and I don’t want to be there, that should be the end of the conversation.”

Despite the announcement that she had withdrawn, 11 district residents came to microphone during public comment to express their disapproval of Valbrun in particular or the idea of hiring a consulting firm in general.

Mary O’Dowd read the Aug. 9 Facebook post in which Valbrun called Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas the devil, compared them to former President Donald Trump, and said she hoped the entire GOP implodes. O’Dowd called Valbrun “grossly unprofessional, inappropriate and offensive.”

After O’Dowd left the microphone, she walked over to the camera that was live streaming the meeting.

“Valda, if you are out there, I find this shameful,” she said, holding up the printed Facebook post and receiving loud cheers and applause.

“How is that ever appropriate?” Valbrun asked of O’Dowd’s action.

Other residents who spoke said the district does not need a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant and objected to spending $174,000 for the work (see accompanying story).

Valbrun said she has taken comfort in letters of support she has received from people in the community, including teachers.

“That is the only thing keeping me surviving right now. I know there are good humans there,” she said.

Valbrun said she has sent the district an invoice for $3,000 to cover her time and expenses in attending the interview. She also expressed concerns that residents’ reactions could cost her other business.

“This has been so frustrating,” she said. “It has caused me so much heartache.”

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean