Despite assertions of the two lawyers on the board that it could be in violation of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Evanston Township High School District 202 Board voted 5-2 Monday night to pass a resolution that would curb disclosure of communications from its president and superintendent.
The board’s two lawyers, Jonathan Baum and Gretchen Livingston, were adamant in insisting that courts could interpret its action as a violation of FOIA, an act passed in 1984 that requires school districts, as well as other governmental units in the state, to conduct their business in public, with few exceptions.
But the resolution would prohibit board members from disclosing to third parties the contents of memoes from the president or superintendent without informing the authors of them first.
And if they don’t obtain consent from the author, “the board member shall, unless legally prohibited, first seek guidance and/or inform the board president, superintendent, or board attorney prior to sharing the communication with a third party.”
Superintendent Eric Witherspoon told the board he had discussed the matter with the district’s legal counsel who said the stipulation would not be in violation of FOIA.
The action came after a spat at the board’s November meeting when its president, Pat Savage-Williams, criticized Baum for sharing a memo from the superintendent with a third party following an incident involving the confiscation of copies of the school newspaper, The Evanstonian, which contained a group of articles concerning the use of marijuana by students.
The board members who voted in favor of the resolution, Mark Metz, Monique Parsons, Jude Laude, Patricia Maunsell, and Savage-Williams, insisted that the measure was nothing more than a means to insure that the board would receive all the information it needed to function effectively.
After the vote was taken, Livingston asked that board members receive a memo in writing from the district’s attorney that would explain why he thought the resolution would be legal.
Such a memo, incidentally, could be retrieved by any member of the public by issuing a formal request under the FOIA regulations.
In the meantime, Baum said that he had been in contact with the Illinois ACLU “and they have authorized me to say that the organization has expressed interest in looking at a possible legal challenge in the event this resolution passes.”