Evanston Township High School District 202 board members would be required to seek permission to share information with outside parties if a proposed resolution is adopted Monday night.

At last month’s meeting, Board President Pat Savage-Williams was critical of veteran member Jonathan Baum for sharing an internal memo to the board from Superintendent Eric Witherspoon with a third party concerning an issue with the school newspaper, The Evanstonian.

Savage-Williams said that such memoes ought to be considered confidential and should not be released to non-board members. Her position was not shared by some of the other board members.

The resolution that is coming up for a vote Monday night would ensure the confidentiality of email or other written communication from the superintendent or board president unless the member either obtains permission from the author, or, in special circumstances, either seeks guidance or informs the board president, superintendent, or board attorney before sharing the communication with a third party.

The public portion of Monday’s board meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Room N112 of the high school, at 1600 Dodge Ave.

Following is the complete text of the document titled “Resolution Regarding Superintendent and Board Communications”:

WHEREAS, the Evanston High School District 202 Board of Education consists of seven members, the Board’s powers and duties include the authority to adopt, enforce, and monitor all policies for the management and governance of the District,

WHEREAS, as stated in the Board member oath of office prescribed by the School Code, a Board member has no legal authority as an individual, and

WHEREAS, the Board has adopted the Board Member Code of Conduct as district policy 2:82, and

WHEREAS, each Board member pledges to do his or her utmost to represent the public interest in education by adhering to the standards and principles in the Code of Conduct, and

WHEREAS, the Board has established and approved Board Agreements that it revisits and updates annually, and

WHEREAS, the Board, its individual members and the superintendent commit individually and collectively to stand by these agreements, and

WHEREAS, Board members and the superintendent recognize that a relationship which encompasses mutual trust, support, and cooperation is essential to the smooth and effective operation of the District, and

WHEREAS, Board members and the superintendent reaffirm a “no surprises” approach to business—during or between meetings—as a sign of respect for all participants and the process and recognize that this approach is necessary for minimizing legal liability, and

WHEREAS, the Board and superintendent function most effectively and establish trust by communicating with integrity and honesty, and

WHEREAS, it is vitally important to the health of the organization that the superintendent and Board president be able to communicate with confidence directly with the Board, and

WHEREAS, the Board expects and is most effective when there is open, confidential, timely and forthright communication from the Board president and the superintendent,

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT when the superintendent or Board president communicates district information exclusively to the Board and/or other School District administrators in an email or other written communication, Board members shall adhere to the following practices:

1. Assume the communication is confidential unless it states otherwise; and

2. Maintain the confidentiality of the communication unless: a. The author of the communication grants consent to the Board member to share the communication with a specific third party; or

b. Extraordinary circumstances exist, and the Board member reasonably believes that there is a legal obligation or it is in the best interest of the School District to share the communication with a third party and the author is unlikely to consent to release of the communication. In such a case, 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.

Related story:

ETHS board president blasts member for actions

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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  1. This is a terrible idea.

    This is a terrible idea.  This is a public board doing the public’s business.  Nothing should be confidential other than personnel matters and contract negotiations.

    1. Transparency is the Name of the Game

      This resolution is a horrible idea that wreaks of board and administration manipulation of the public relations nightmare they will soon be facing by self-serving interest and not public interest.  The Board represents the community of Evanston, i.e. us the taxpayers, NOT the administration. All actions and correspondence should be made available to the public without obstacles and penalty.  Isn’t almost every email that is created on ETHS computer systems not protected by privacy laws, but instead may be scrutinized any time by the public?  Every public school teacher is told to be aware that all of his or her emails may be seen by the public at any time and that there is no such thing as a private school email… yet the administration and the Board want an exemption for themselves.  We need change at ETHS and we need it now!  The collusion between the Administration and the Board is at its worst (coincidence that this has happened under the tenures of Metz and Savage-Williams as school board presidents?). On behalf of the Evanston Community, they must begin to confront and scrutinize what has been happening at ETHS by this Administration and the rubber-stampers on the Board.  I applaud Mr. Baum and his position of representing the public at Board Meetings and holding this Board and Administration accountable to the people of Evanston.  I hope people will rally to this board meeting on Monday and tell the Board (who represents the public) to do what is best for the public and keep everything transparent!

  2. What do you want to hide from us taxpayers?
    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but prior to 1983 both Evanston school districts would not release “achievement gap” statistics as they were considered confidential to non board members. When some Evanston taxpayers threatened to take legal action to get this information, the information was made public. Is history repeating itself?

  3. board communication

    One of the issues upon which I ran and about which I feel strongly is board communication.  The board is our representative, works for, and is responsible to the community.  While some communications and deliberations, particularly concerning student and personnel issues, need to be confidential, the board should err on the side of, and strive for, greater communication, not less.  Unfortunately I cannot be at the board meeting tonight, but I encourage others to speak up during the public comment session.

    1. I agree with you Russ and please run again

      Russ, I agree with your views on board communication. And I agree with many/most of your positions articulated during the school board campaign. 

      I hope you will run again because you would be an outstanding member and contributor to the school board.

  4. School Board Matters 2.0

    There are 7 publicly elected members of the ETHS (and D65) School Boards. In our Democracy, new policies get changed and passed with a 4-3 vote.

    Electing responsible members to school boards matters. Today’s proposal to limit information to the public is a case in point.

    Taxpayers provide about $80 million dollars annually to fund ETHS and we should have full access to information. Why does this board and administration want to limit information available to the public? (Remember the opaque process that led to the appointment of former board member, Anne Sills?)

    Disclosure and transparency should be core principles in the governance of any public institution, especially our schools and especially in Evanston.

    This proposal should NOT be passed but it will because there are at least 4 members who believe that they work for the Administration instead of representing the best interests of the Evanston community.

    School Board Matters.

  5. Who Drafted This Resolution?
    I hope there wasn’t a lawyer involved in drafting this resolution. There are numerous deficiencies in this resolution all stemming from incorrect factual statements or incorrect interpretation of the law.

    Board members do not have a duty to the Superintendent or the Chair of the Board. The Board owes a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers of Evanston, as noted on the Board’s website regarding the Illinois Open Meetings Act:

    “Board of Education meetings are subject to the Illinois Open Meetings Act and, with the exception of matters legally allowed for closed session discussion, are held in public. All actions of the Board of Education occur in the public setting. Upon election to office, board members take an Oath of Office to publicly express, among other things, their commitment to respect taxpayer interests by serving as faithful protectors of the school district’s assets. They commit to respect and encourage free expression of opinion by fellow board members and others with the understanding that they must also respect the privacy of students and employees. Board members acknowledge that individually they have no legal authority and that decisions can be made only by majority vote of the board at a public meeting.”

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