D86 gathering Feb. 10 is a tale of two meetings

The Hinsdale High School District 86 Board meeting Feb. 10 prompted two responses: hope and disgust.

We saw many things to appreciate — audience members who were brave enough to say they believe equity work is important work for the district to do, board member Peggy James’ call for her colleagues to be more willing to talk about issues and audience members who presented their comments thoughtfully and professionally.

We are particularly inspired by the Hinsdale Central junior who had the courage to stand up and make an emotional plea for people to treat one another with compassion and empathy. She shared how painful it is when one student tells another student to kill themselves. That bears restating: kids tell each other to kill themselves — and not just at Hinsdale Central.

And yet this student, who made the most reasonable request of the evening, received only a smattering of applause. The next speaker, also a Central student, earned loud cheers and applause when he called for Superintendent Tammy Prentiss to resign.

Audience members exhibited some of the worst behavior we’ve seen at a school board meeting. They cheered, applauded, chanted and high-fived speakers who agreed with them during public comment. When the majority liked what the speaker was saying, they yelled “Let them speak” when the two-minute timer went off. When they didn’t agree with one speaker, who had the nerve to suggest the increase in teen suicides has to do with the pandemic in general and isolation, not solely the masks, they yelled “Time’s up.”

And while we appreciate that students want to have a voice and chose to attend the meeting to express it, we wish the adults in the audience would see teaching opportunities when students said things like, “It’s not our job to protect the adults” or “You need to do what we want.” These aren’t the attitudes we want to encourage in young adults. We should be working to help them develop a wider perspective and recognize that a community is the healthiest — in all ways — when people work to protect one another.

Board member Jeff Waters only furthered the divisive attitude when he called for fellow board member Kathleen Hirsman to recuse herself from voting on mask requirements because she doesn’t have kids in the district. That strikes us as unprofessional and unkind. (And it makes one audience member’s suggestion that Prentiss be fired and he become the new superintendent even more ridiculous.)

Then, when Hirsman said she refused to be cowed by the mob, the audience responded by yelling and booing and acting like a mob.

The mask debate is not an easy one. As many speakers and board members noted, different districts and different states have taken different approaches. Even medical professionals offer conflicting opinions about how effective masks are. But the ability to have a reasonable conversation about masks — or any other topic in District 86 — is lost in the hyperbole and hostility.

We stand with the Central student who begged adults to set an example of respect. They let her down Thursday night. We hope they do better in the future.