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District 41 superintendent says board acted within right in discontinuing second-grade specialization

GLEN ELLYN – Glen Ellyn School District 41 officials contend the District 41 Board of Education acted within its right when the majority of its members on May 1 voted to discontinue second-grade teacher specialization.

Following that action, 17 complaints from parents and community members were filed with the district under the uniform grievance procedure.

Voting "yes" on May 1 to discontinue second-grade teacher specialization were board President Stephanie Clark, Vice President Kurt Buchholz and board members Jason Loebach, Bruce Currie and Linda D'Ambrosio. Voting "no" were board members Robert Bruno and Erica Nelson, who had been board president prior to Clark taking the reins at the May 1 meeting.

Teacher specialization, which is when a teacher focuses on a particular subject, began in the 2013-14 school year in second through fifth grades. Specialization will continue this fall for third through fifth grades.

The complaints were investigated by the district's complaint manager, who submitted reports and recommended decisions that were then adopted and approved by Superintendent Paul Gordon, Clark said.

His decision was that the board "had the legal authority, both procedurally and substantively, to make the decision to discontinue teacher specialization at the second grade level," she said at the board's Aug. 7 meeting. Those who filed the complaints then appealed the decision.

The majority of board members voted to support Gordon's decision to deny the complaints. Board member Robert Bruno voted to abstain, saying he couldn't "take the position that I can be both a decision-maker and also the judge of my decision."

Nelson was absent from the meeting.

"My abstention was not a comment about the credibility of anybody's vote," Bruno said. "It was just procedurally. I don't think that I should serve or anyone should serve as the judge of their own decisions."

In response, Clark said the board consulted with its legal counsel, and the way the district's policy is written, that's the process.

"If someone wishes to appeal the [superintendent's] decision, it comes to the board to decide if we affirm that decision or if we want to change it," she said. "That is the procedure, so we are following the way things are supposed to be done."

Buchholz added the "court system is still there."

"Anybody could file suit against the district if they chose to," he said. "As Stephanie said, we followed the policy that we have, which is a common policy with school districts. This isn't something that is just at District 41."

The teachers union for District 41 had criticized the actions of the board after its second-grade teacher specialization vote.

"The Glen Ellyn Education Association is disappointed with the board’s rash decision regarding specialization made at the May 1 meeting," Glen Ellyn Education Association Co-presidents Tracy Guerrieri and Dina Sbarra said in a statement following the meeting. "This decision is not what is best for students and the educational community. The association believes that decisions like these should be made through the cooperation of the administration and educators, whom are all trained professionals in the educational community."

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