PSD 150 controversy persists with racial overtones

Jun 17, 2014

  The Peoria Public School Board meeting last night started with a special graduation ceremony for a student who was running at the State Track meet when his classmates went through the ceremony. But the parts of the meeting that came after the in-meeting ceremony included a generally unsettling feeling. Peoria Public Radio's Tanya Koonce reports on the bouts of contentiousness in and around the public-comment period:

 Much of the unease harkens to the issues at Charter Oak that saw the removal of long time principal John Wetteraurer. But the back and forth last night started with frequent public meeting speaker Savino Sierra using what some might consider a curse word to describe the basic direction of society. School Board President Rick Cloyd took issue:

 Sierra: “That word is in the dictionary” 

Cloyd: “I don’t care what dictionary it’s in. Last meeting you used several terms that were inappropriate for a meeting. I’ll ask you to refrain from doing that or I’ll ask you to sit down.”

Sierra: “Okay. okay. Let me finish.”  

Cloyd: “Do you understand sir?  Did you get it?” 

Sierra: “I’ll think about it” 

Cloyd: “You think about it and you're going to sit down”

Sierra: “Just a minute. Let me finish.” 

Cloyd: “No. You’re going to sit down if you don’t clean up your language. You did it four times last time.”

Sierra: “Alright. Okay”

Cloyd: “I’ll argue with you all five minutes and use all of your time.” 

 Then there was the exchange that started with the comments of retired teacher Sharon Crews. But it was outgoing Board Member Laura Petelle’s last meeting and what might best be described as a kerfuffle ensued:

 Petelle: “I’m sorry but this is really getting incendiary and I’m having a problem with it.” Crews: “The underlying presumption seems to be that inner city schools have so many strikes against them they cannot be expected to adhere...”

Butler or Petelle or both: “Point of order! “Mr. Cloyd Point of order!”

Cloyd:“Yes Ma’am (pause) Do you care to amplify that?”

Petelle: [sighs]“Racism is a really loaded word. If there are going to be accusations of racism and you’re going to stand here in an unanswered accusations against our administrators across the district in several schools. I, I don’t want to...  

Crews: “May I finish my speech Laura, Please.” 

Petelle: “I don’t want to listen to that without evidence.” And the exchange carried on for a moment before Crews was allowed to finish and School Board President Rick Cloyd included legal counsel: 

 Crews: I’m especially shocked...”

Cloyd: “As offensive as your comments may be to some people you have a right to make them.” 

Crews: “Thank you. Thank you. And I certainly... ”

Cloyd: “Mr Eisenhammer would you care to comment?

Eisenhammer: “No I just wanted to...let her finish.”

Crews: “I’m especially shocked when black administrators do not understand lowering standards is such an admission of such racially biased thinking.”  

 At least one other elected official in the room called the basic feeling of the meeting unsettling. Superintendent Grenita Lathan spoke to the situation in the board answer period that comes just after public comments. She says the district is going to keep moving forward:

  “It’s not my way or the highway, it’s the way of the children. If you didn’t understand that by watching a specialized graduation program tonight for one child because it’s about every child in our district, then you don’t want to work with us. You say you feel tense, hostility. NO! We’re just tired of people being disrespectful to these seven people that give up they time free of charge and people think they don’t listen, they don’t pay attention, they don’t hold me accountable, and all those staff members. You’re really confused.” 

 And Lathan says she’s still willing to meet her detractors halfway: 

 “I’m going to keep working. But you’re not going to continue to be disrespectful and not be called on the carpet! Race does matter! Race is still an issue in our city and our country! Have a good night! 

 The idea of re-structuring meetings including the public comment period was the first item of business after the board response.  I'm Tanya Koonce. 

This is the audio file of the PSD-150 Public Comment period at the regular board meeting June 16, 2014. It includes the public hearing for the district's budget amendment and ends with the board's response to audience comments. The audio runs about 53 minutes.