Evanston High School board slams door on public access to communications
A confidentiality rule approved by the board of Evanston Township High School District 202 (ETHS) on Dec. 11 unlawfully reverses the presumption of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), according to an attorney on the board who voted against it.
“The presumption under FOIA is that all government communication is public with some narrow areas of exemption,” Jonathan Baum told North Cook News. “Under this resolution, every communication among school officials is confidential unless permission to share it is granted by the superintendent or the board president. They even have to approve the party the information is being shared with.”
The other attorney on the board, Gretchen Livingston, also voted against the resolution, which was approved on a 5-2 vote.
A spokesman for the Illinois American Civil Liberties Union said that they were looking into possible constitutional violations regarding the resolution, but they had no set timetable or strategy for pursuing legal action.
The controversy arose out of Baum’s sharing an email from Superintendent Eric Witherspoon explaining why he confiscated the Sept. 22 issue of the student newspaper, The Evanstonian, which contained an article covering the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana and a poll of its use among students.
Witherspoon believed that the article encouraged drug use, according to the email that Baum forwarded. Baum disagrees. The article was later published in the paper on Nov. 3, but a statement was added to the story that neither the Evanstonian nor ETHS condones the use of marijuana.
Witherspoon did not respond to a request for comment.
At a November meeting, ETHS Board President Pat Savage-Williams blasted Baum for violating the board’s confidentiality rules, according to a story in Evanston Now.
Then, four days before the meeting during which the confidentiality rule was approved, Baum said the proposed resolution appeared in a packet of meeting materials with a statement that it would be voted on that Monday.
“Normally we set aside dates for debate and then later dates for action,” Baum said. “Not this time.”
Finally, Baum said that the resolution comes with no enforcement provisions
“The board can’t kick other members off the board for violating this policy,” he said.
Savage-Williams did not respond to a request for comment.
Savage-Williams has made North Cook News before in her role as “Department Coordinator, Psychologist, SEED, African American Club sponsor” at New Trier High School.
An August story in North Cook News showed that she and Timothy Hayes, assistant superintendent of student services at New Trier, spent thousands in taxpayer dollars on travel, lodging and meals to attend racial equity seminars. They were also the driving forces behind a student seminar, now discontinued at the predominantly white school, to sensitize students to their “white privilege” and their inborn racial bias.