The Jasper Unit 1 Board of Education held a special meeting on March 2 at the Unit Office. Board members present: Mrs. Mandy Rieman, Mr. Gordon Millsap, Mr. Jon Fulton, Mrs. Holly Farley, Mrs. Melissa Stanley, and Mr. Rob Street (who entered late due to coaching the school bass fishing team). Board members absent Mr. Jerry L. Jed Earnest.
After the meeting was called to order, the District Attorney Tony Loizzi made a statement about issues that have arisen. “I just wanted to say, and I will keep it brief I promise, before we go into public comment I just wanted to speak to the people here today. We have been getting a lot of emails and phone calls here in the District, hearing a lot of the same questions. So, I figured if I made an opening statement just to talk a little about the issue at hand, it may answer some of the questions right out of the bat. But still welcome you up during public comments to make whatever comments to the board you would like to make. But as some of you may be aware, over the last couple of weeks it has come to the school district’s attention that we may have had a breech in private information. That information had been forwarded out to members of the public and contained student information and some private personnel information. As many of you know, the information is public, the information was shared on Facebook and other social medias that the information was coming from our board member Mr. Earnest, whom we had hoped would be here tonight to address that.
First and foremost, I just think that it’s important for you to know, and I am sure you are aware of this already, it’s important for you to know that what has happened is not at all encouraged or condoned by the Board of Education. It is an action of an individual person, acting without the authority to do so. In fact, not only was it not condoned by the people sitting next to me, they weren’t even aware of it. It came into our attention due to a freedom of information request that was submitted and the District was doing their due diligence and reviewing the documents, along with our assistance, on what should be released. That is when it was revealed that there may be an issue. As soon as we identified that issue, I was on the phone with Mr. Fulton Mr. Johnson and we took immediate action to issue a cease and desist letter to the individual at question, telling him to not only stop releasing information, but also in the future to not do it anymore. In addition to asking him to not release information, we have also by my direction ceased allowing him access to any private, confidential information. He is not being forwarded any confidential information anymore, we have even disabled his electronic account where the boards members access such information. So in addition to telling him to stop, we have also taken our own action unilaterally to make sure it stops going forward. In addition to those actions, we copied the Regional Office of Education, the Illinois State Board of Education, and the local State’s Attorney on the cease and desist letter so that they were aware of the situation. As part of tonight’s meeting, we are going to be doing a self board evaluation, and part of that evaluation when we are looking at the board we are going to talk tonight about we make sure that things like this don’t happen in the future because as you can imagine as some of you are probably feeling very strongly about this, so do the ladies and gentlemen sitting next to me.
In addition to that, we will be on March 16 considering some additional action potentially to address this matter, some of which we will talk about tonight and some of which I will talk to Mr. Fulton and Mr. Johnson about after tonight. But there will be some agenda items on the March 16 board meeting most likely that will be addressing this situation.
So, I just wanted to make those brief comments. I really appreciate and the Board does all of you coming out tonight, it shows that you really do care about your school District and the Board members that are here. It’s unfortunate that we are here for what could be perceived as a negative matter, but it is nice to see how engaged you guys are in your school District and how active you are and diligent when you see that something is not very constructive. So without further ado we are now going to turn to the public comment portion of the meeting. We do have a busy schedule tonight Mr. Rice is here with the Illinois Association of School Boards so as you are well aware if you have been at meetings there is a two minute limit on public comments and we ask that you adhere to that tonight so that we can take care of the business we need to take care of tonight. Mr. Fulton can give you a 15 second warning before the time is up so that you can wrap up your comments before the time is up. As you are also well aware this is a time for us to hear from you, the board won’t engage or answer questions right on the spot here tonight, but if there are comments or questions that deserve an answer we will talk to the Superintendent and we will follow up with you at a later time, just not at an open meeting. Again probably goes without saying, but I just like to mention it. We would appreciate if everybody keeps it appropriate, professional, and civil because everybody seems like very nice people and it doesn’t seem like this is going to be a problem. At this point I will zip my lip and unless anyone else has anything to say, we will turn it over to public comments.
Mr. Johnson then stated “Mr. Street will be here in a few minutes he is doing another deed for the District. He is the bass fishing coach so unfortunately he had a meeting tonight when we had this scheduled. He will be here in about 10-15 minutes. I was notified that the individual at the other end would not be here either, he let me know that.”
The floor was then opened for public comments. Rebekah Nester began stating, “I think my comment is probably most appropriately heard by Mr. Earnest, but I think I am going to go ahead and say it and then I will just email it to you all and he’ll obviously have access to it at that point. Good evening Mr. Johnson, Board President Mr. Fulton, and all of the fellow board members. My name is Rebekah Nester. I am a Jasper county citizen, A voter, a Taxpayer, a Christian and in regards to the circumstances of this evening; most importantly, a mother of two Jasper Unit 1 students. Thank you. Thank you for what you guys do Superintendent, the administrators, educators, and volunteers in this community and the majority of the board for their hard work and tireless efforts they put forth daily for OUR children. It is often a Thankless job and no amount of money can compensate most of these good men and women for their commitment.
Unfortunately, Board member Earnest cannot be grouped into that category. I would like to take a moment to remind Board member Earnest, that he swore to protect the taxpayers' interests as a Jasper Unit 1 Board member. It is my opinion that he continues to abuse your position in a way that does not come from ignorance, but comes from Malice. I am of the opinion that he continues rape our Unit unnecessarily of monies that are desperately needed by our unit to operate for the good of our children.
Board member Earnest, also swore to protect the privacy of Jasper Unit 1's students and employees and yet it has been proven that he has grossly abused your power and taken liberties with private and confidential information and shared that information with those who did not have the liberty to access it. Board Member Earnest. this is NOT protecting the children of this unit! this is abuse, this is immoral and I, as a mother will not stand for him to continue to have the power to abuse my children.
He has been called upon repeatedly by our community to resign from the Board of Education. Please do so. Please turn from the evil that has grasped your heart and mind so strongly that you are willing to continue to conduct yourself with such arrogance by using your position to harm children.
Isaiah chapter 5 verse 20 reads: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.
Mr. Earnest’s ideas of moral distinction can no longer be spun either by himself or those he chooses to lay with. We know the kind of wickedness his path has become the path he has chosen. This community has had enough. We will not stop. we will not go away. We will protect our children. So Board Member, Earnest I am sorry he is not here, but woe unto thee. Thank you guys.”
Next Ray Diel spoke to the board. Ray Diel is my name. Most of you know me, I know most of you. I will echo Rebekah’s words about you all. I have worked in public service for 31 years, most of my adult life. In my County Clerk days, I have dealt with every Superintendent Jasper Unit 1 had. I helped them with their levies, I helped them with their budgets, I taught one Superintendent how to levy, he didn’t know. I will tell you this, in all the years I have been around, Mr. State Superintendent I am glad you are here, I want you to hear this also. All of the years I have been here and watched this and seen the operation of Jasper Unit 1, I am confident I believe this, I have told my wife this and I have told other folks this I believe that Andrew Johnson will be the best Superintendent that we have ever had in Jasper Unit 1. I think also that you guys are as good of a school board as we have ever had. I really believe that. You just are. All you have to do to be a good public servant from 31 years of experience is be honest and upfront with everyone. We don’t care if you tell us no. No is a perfectly acceptable answer, we can handle that. But don’t lie to us, don’t hide things and we are fine we are good. We are supporting you. That was my daughter that spoke just a minute ago. I have three daughters. I grew up in Jasper County went to Grove Grade School and Newton High School. My daughters all went to Newton High School. I have nine grandchildren and they all live in Jasper County. It’s amazing to be able to say that in this day and age. I am so very happy because there is no better place for my grandchildren than this school. Now since I have retired from public service. We do risk management and insurance services. My firm currently insures over 25 counties in the state of Illinois, plus cities and one school District. We are very hands on with our clients, we are very hands on with training our clients in HIPPA laws which are 1 priority for all our clients. Now, I know the HIPPA law has been violated. My grandson is who we are talking about. Bible says as far as it is up to you live in peace with everybody. All of you sitting around this table know my family and that is our goal. I don’t want to fuzz with anyone. If you start with my children, and my grandchildren. Grandchildren more that goes out the window. I am very heartened to hear and see and note thank you for that presentation today, we needed to know that. I am very heartened to hear what’s going on. Now once again with my background, I know the wheels of government turn very very slowly. There are many many rules and regulations that none of us know or understand about that these folks have to abide by. It’s not like home where we say we are gonna do this, and it gets done. Things take a long time to get done, in the school system, county system, city any unit of government, like it or not it just does. So, I know that you guys are working on this. I want you all to know that the board members, attorneys and others are working on it. Now, I just said a while ago that sometimes no is the answer we get. And I know that once you have exhausted every avenue, you are going to tell us what results are from that search and the limits of your power and that is fine and we accept that. Here’s the other thing, for 22 years I was the County Clerk for Jasper County and in 22 years I lost track of how many elections I conducted in 22 years. One thing no one is above is the ballot box, so rest assured that if there is nothing you all can do, there is something we can do and it will happen. Thank you all very much. I appreciate all you do. “
Suzi Steber spoke next. She stated, “As most of you know, I am Suzi Steber I’m a little outspoken. I want to thank you guys, the ones that have the courage to come here and face us. Thank you , thank you for your dedication and don’t think for a minute, I’m speaking for myself, but I also think that I am speaking for several people in here, we do not hold you responsible for the actions of your board member who is not here. Last thing I want to say is I swear to you all I am not Jane Doe.”
Mark Fulton spoke next asking a few questions. He stated, “I have a couple of questions that probably can’t be answered this evening but since we have a representative from the school board association, is that right sir (yes sir) and the attorney. Are there any provisions in the school board statutes in the State of Illinois for either a public petition being signed with enough signatures to ask for the removal of Jed from the board or are there any statutes that you can have a recall election.
The question was answered with the response “The only thing that this board can do within their power is to ask the local Regional Office of Education who does have the authority to step in and remove a board member. School board members can not remove each other.” A discussion then turned to what the Regional Superintendent can do. Patrick Rice also spoke about the removal of a board member by the Regional Superintendent being unprecedented.
Melissa Stanley spoke about an issue that occurred with her family. She stated, “ As last week I had something happen to my family on private property and some of you know about this, some of you may not. My oldest daughter (name omitted) which is a senior in high school was at The Landing where they have done their open gyms since January. I got a phone call from *her* and didn’t answer it because she usually wants to know what’s for supper at that time of night. Finally by the third time I answered it and she was frantic and said “Mom, Jed and Bill are sitting out here. There were three cars in the parking lot because four softball girls were there doing their workouts *my daughter* and another girl were the only two that drove. The other two were younger girls and a coach to oversee what was happening. Why they were meeting in that parking lot is beyond me, but this kind of thing needs to stop because my child was in fear and shortly after that when she was pulling into our driveway then they decided to drive past our house. Why? Now Bill could go home that way, but Jed has no reason to. I will not stop with this. This has happened to too many kids.” She also stated, “It broke my heart when what happened with the football team happened with an individual player and it affected me and I care about all these kids in our District, and I know that a volunteer coach’s son has had it happen to him. Which is wrong, and *my daughter* is number three. I just want the public to be aware this is happening. This is happening to kids and this is happening to kids that he is mad at that he has someone who is standing up to him saying this is not right, we are not going to let this happen. So now the kids are involved with it. *My daughter* has a scholarship to go play softball *location removed* and she is terrified that this man is going to try to take this away from her in some way. I can not stand and let this happen anymore, I just can’t. There has been a police report done. The officer in charge was wonderful. First time I felt like somebody wanted to help us, and I am forever grateful for that. This is really upsetting to me for not only my own child, but for the children who are at stake every day you just don’t know, you just don’t know what’s gonna happen. So, fear and that’s pretty sad, not only for kids and us as a board but for administrators and teachers and people in the public that get nasty letters at their work. I could go on and on.”
Susan Lindley states, “Since Melissa brought it up, since the last board meeting where I was asking a lot of questions about FOIAs and stuff like that and it all came out in the paper. Two days later I got a postcard delivered to me at my place of work. Not very nice. Pertaining to I work in the shadows I fly in the breeze you don’t know me, I don’t know you, but Mommy dearest tell Jack to watch his back. Jack is my son sitting back here, Josh Kuhl who is getting ready to run for school board at the next election so I can’t prove who it was I have done several things to try to find out and get to the bottom of it. I went as far as to the Illinois State Police they have told me there is not much I can do until something physically happens to me or to my son and I’m going to guarantee you that if anything happens to my son or my daughter or any of my grandkids umm yeah I’m gonna watch what I am going to say, but you back a grandparent into a corner and and it’s gonna get real ugly. You go after my kid or my grandchildren, you had better be ready to take me on cause Mommy dearest is coming. I just think everybody needed to know that there has been stuff delivered in the mail to my place of work that pertained to me speaking out at a school board meeting and I think it is appalling. If you can’t say it to my face, then don’t come behind my back.”
Debbie Diel spoke stating, “I just want to say to this gentleman sitting right here (Patrick Rice from IASB) I talked to Monty Newlin at length one morning this week and I talked to Jon Fulton the same day, and Monty Newlin told me that he couldn’t do anything about this situation, that it was unprecedented, so then I said why can’t you set one then, why can’t you do something. He said he just couldn’t do anything. So I want everyone to know that, because that’s something that can be done about that at the ballot box too. I’m sorry to be that way sir I really am, but that’s sometimes our only recourse is our vote and that’s too bad. These people are our friends and neighbors and he sounded like such a nice man on the phone but he was just not, he wasn’t very helpful. I’m sorry.”
Discussion was then held on the qualifications for the Regional Superintendent’s position. Mr. Rice spoke about the qualifications and the removal of board members. He along with the attorney spoke about the fact that the removal has never happened unless they commit a felony and then they are just not qualified.
Susan Lindley states, “ That’s what everybody in the community wants you guys to know to is that we are appalled the community is appalled by what is happening and we would like it to be fixed. We understand that there can maybe not be a quick fix and there may not be a fix at all until the next election, but we do want you to know too that the rest of you we think are doing a wonderfully great job. It is just hard every day to hear people talk about one person, one person. It gets really old. I just can’t understand why that person can’t be big enough and step off the board. The Board then entered into closed session.