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Students speak out at District 300 meeting

Updated: December 28, 2012 6:18AM

ALGONQUIN — When senior Desiree Sulzmann, 17, of Sleepy Hollow and three friends were called to the principal’s office at Dundee-Crown High School days after speaking in support of their teachers during the public comments at the last District 300 school board meeting, she joked, “Are we in trouble?”

When the answer was “kind of,” Desiree said, “Our hearts sank.”

Senior Tyler Jones, 17, of West Dundee agreed: “It was just rather deflating.”

But three of those four students spoke again during more than a half hour of public comments Monday at the school board meeting.

For a meeting with very little on the agenda, more than 200 people turned out, spilling from the Professional Development Center into the hallway at Westfield Community School. That’s because the meeting marked just over one week before teachers in the Carpentersville-area school district can walk out after filing their intent-to-strike notice.

And while several students and parents made appeals for the school board and teachers union to come to an agreement during the public comments, teacher Mike York also mentioned what he called “the district’s hands-on approach to censorship of freedom of speech.”

“I was here that night, and those students were not disrespectful but expressed a passion for learning,” York said.

Later in the meeting, Board President Anne Miller and several board members assured that any directive to “squelch students’ enthusiasm,” as the teacher put it, had not come from the school board.

“As a board member, I certainly wouldn’t reprimand anybody saying their piece,” Chris Stanton said.

“Frankly, I appreciate the students or anybody coming up here.”

Desiree said the students have nothing against Principal Lynn McCarthy, who did not appear to be at the meeting Monday. And junior Mary McNicholas, 16, of West Dundee was quick to add McCarthy always has supported her students.

But Desiree, Tyler, Mary and senior Isabella Romano, 16, of Sleepy Hollow were told the principal had gotten more than one email about their public comments that said they had been “disrespectful” and their “tone was above the board,” Tyler said. The principal had told them then she was “disappointed” and reminded them again Monday morning to be respectful, Desiree said.

And, Desiree said, she understood. More than 500 people were at the last, even bigger school board meeting, and people are more likely to comment when they are upset than pleased, she said.

Still, she told the board during her public comments, “I understand the details because I am the details.”

One of the major details that has emerged in 11 months of negotiations is the district’s large class sizes. The board has proposed lowering elementary school class sizes in its final offer to Local Educators Association of District 300, while the union has argued for limits in middle and high school, as well.

LEAD spokesman Mike Williamson called the union’s strike notice filed last week “basically a paperwork thing.” But it does let the teachers union strike as soon as Dec. 4.

And District 300 already has made plans for a strike, which would leave public school students with no place to go and parochial school students with no transportation. It would close all but its three middle schools, which would remain open as emergency attendance centers for students in kindergarten through grade six, the district has said.

Final offers from both District 300 and LEAD were posted last Tuesday, Nov. 20, on the labor relations board website. The union filed its intent to strike notice with the IELRB that day.

“Let’s finish this crisis together,” York said. “It should not be an atmosphere of you versus us, but an atmosphere of we, working together to get this contract finalized.”

The school board and teachers’ union plan to meet this Tuesday to talk specifically about finances, which school board spokesman Joe Stevens has said is the biggest detail that remains.

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