MOUNT CARMEL — Monday night’s Wabash District 348 School Board meeting was mostly procedural — until a firework show of an ending.
The meeting was mostly comprised of a slew of new hirings, resignations, and Superintendent Dr. Chuck Bleyer speaking on the school readying itself for a variety of outcomes which could come in the next few months.
Among the moves included Nicole Holt’s resignation as head swim coach at both the high school and junior high, Laura McLemore’s resignation from MCJHS, and Melinda Pelzel’s resignation from MCJHS, where she worked as an aide. Jamie Tillotson was transferred to Mount Carmel Grade School, where she’ll become the Sixth Grade Special Education Teacher effective the ensuing school year. Steven DeStefano was certified to become the high school’s Woodchop Teacher effective next year, and Caren Hawf was announced as the Summer Paint Crew Leader.
It all seemed to be moving along pretty well and set to conclude, until board member Ryan Peter caught fellow board members seemingly off guard with a concluding, impassioned speech about the state’s current stay-at-home order.
“The word of the last three months has been essential,” Peter stated. “Who is? Who is not? We are all essential and there should be no disagreement that school is essential. Our students sitting in classrooms is essential. The structure that a classroom and school day provide is essential. For some of our students, the structure and routine of a school day is about the only stability they have. Many parents have suffered the last few months, being falsely labeled “non-essential” and losing their job, or having to give up a job to stay home with kids who cant go to school, but at the same time can’t go to the babysitter.”
Clearly disgruntled with the current state of affairs, Peter cited numerous parents he’s spoken to about the closure, remote learning, and more.
At the end of his four-and-a-half minute speech, Peter called for unprecedented action by the board.
“This district must figure this out now, so that we can have students in the hallway in August,” Peter opined. “I do not want to hear about how we cannot. We need to figure out how we can, just like the falsely labeled “non-essential” parents had to figure out how to make ends meet the last 3 months. This board and administration have the tough task and responsibility of setting the precedent for how future boards can deal with a similar scenario,”
“Those who trade freedom for safety will soon have neither. If you, as a board, deem this feat impossible without the permission and blessing of JB Pritzker or the health department, then it is time for we, as a board, to begin strategizing how to return our $4 million dollar tax levy back to the taxpayers of Wabash County for services not rendered.”
Peter’s proposal seems to be a potentially dangerous proposition for a school district who adheres to both state law — as a publicly funded taxpayer entity — as well as the State Board of Education, and the Health Department.
It’s unclear what would exactly happen if the school elected to open its doors without the approval of Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, the Health Department, or the State Board of Education. Could there be serious ramifications?
We reached out to the State Board of Education to gauge such a hypothetical, but they’ve yet to comment on the matter.
One thing’s for sure — people are growing frustrated, and this a storyline to continue to monitor going into August.