Punch & Judy, Mortimer Snerd, Mr. Bluster, and Pinocchio (still hoping to become a real person) – all alive and well at the Board of Education meeting held at Hinsdale Central Monday night, September 24, 2012. Two items were the subject of significant discussions; both ended in identical 5-2 votes, but the majority demonstrated only a choreographed dance at the end of not-so-unseen strings.
The Film Controversy. The issues presented by Hinsdale South’s Films-as-Lit course have been developed here in three previous posts: in terms of governmental theory, by the concerned parent in the class, and in a detailed analysis of the pedagogical issues. Parents and community members spoke before the Board vote, and many important points were made.
Supporting the films, speakers made two primary points: (i) that opposition was motivated by hate-groups (homophobes opposing Brokeback Mountain; religious fanatics apparently being the group opposing American Beauty. One teacher bemoaned the sorry circumstance – he alleged – that, his best efforts notwithstanding, not one student from the District’s Gay-Straight Alliance dared appear to support the films’ showing; however, he did not explain why any of those students should have supported the films’ showing), and (ii) that those opposing the films’ showing were narrow-minded tyrants attempting to impose their values on more broad-minded thinkers (including teachers, students and families).
In opposition to the belatedly published Hinsdale South curriculum, telling points were made including (i) teachers and students viewing Brokeback Mountain or American Beauty on District computers would be liable to dismissal or suspension for violating District policy (Dr. Skoda was unable to use his Board-table computer to find reviews of Brokeback Mountain due to the District’s internet content-filter), and (ii) adults who viewed the films reported the films’ use of graphic and disturbing imagery capable of creating discomfort in mature minds – and the potential for leaving lasting impacts on young children.
It was pointed out that an adult teacher actually engaging in some of the graphically depicted conduct on school grounds would be (and one teacher actually was) subject to lengthy criminal sentences; District 86 administrators barely avoided criminal prosecution in such a situation by being able to show they did not have sufficiently clear notice of the activity.
Superintendent Nicholas Wahl choreographed the Board’s disposition of the issue by iterating Board policy for curriculum design. Dr. Wahl said Board policy was followed in developing the Films as Lit course. Dr. Wahl DID NOT attempt in any way to explain, or justify, the wisdom of the curricular decision-making – he simply told the Board that the procedural boxes were checked-off.
NOT ONE of the five-member majority refusing to suspend the films’ showing, attempted to justify (or even discuss) the pedagogical “value” of either film. NOT ONE even acknowledged having seen either film. NOT ONE challenged the proposition that the films involve sensitive and controversial issues traditionally within the realm of parental teaching; NOT ONE objected to the usurpation of that role by a Government employee.
ALL FIVE of the five-member majority abdicated their statutory oversight roles to non-elected bureaucrats. ALL FIVE ceded responsibility to a one-size-fits-all curriculum design policy well-suited to objective math and science curricula, but not to sensitive morals-based subject matter. ALL FIVE resolved to take no part in responding to community concerns with curricular subject matter; ALL FIVE agreed to refrain from questioning the judgment of rank-and-file NEA Teachers’ Union card carriers.
Cease-and-Desist: The matter of the District’s attempt to harass and stifle this website has been presented here in posts explaining the issue, and pointing out a leadership pattern. The issue has been discussed by the Board a number of times; August 1, 2011; August 20, 2012, September 10, 2012, and September 24, 2012. The August 2011 discussion involved all issues and concluded with the Board expressly declining to take any action.
The agenda item was described as the President’s request for authorization to present a written cease and desist notification/letter. The item involves a myriad of legal issues:
I. In previous discussions, the Board has relied on District Policy regarding use-of-name to justify taking action. But that policy only applies to “community organizations”, and the Board declined to discuss whether HinsdaleHighSchools.com is a “community organization”; if it is, it is entitled to favorable consideration of requests for use of school facilities during non-school hours (105 ILCS 5/10-20.41) (in particular, for a pre-election debate we plan to sponsor early next year).
II. Equitable principles of estoppel and laches may preclude relief, even when otherwise warranted, to parties who have expressly considered seeking it, and then declined to do so.
III. Whether a public, governmental body may pursue an action for “infringement” – which is, in its essence, a protection offered to private enterprise to protect the fruits of entrepreneurial undertakings (for example, could the Village of Hinsdale legally prosecute an infringement action against anyone using the name “Hinsdale” in a privately-named enterprise?)
IV. The primary issues relating to infringement: (a) What are the necessary elements of proof? (b) What evidence is admissible to establish those elements? (c) What injury must be shown?; and, of course, (d) the likelihood of success on any of those points.
V. The expense to the District of proceeding vis-a-vis the benefit to be achieved from success.
VI. Whether certain Board Members are burdened by conflict-of-interest in considering this matter, especially in light of past behavioral patterns.
VII. Whether there are any risks to the District to undertaking infringement litigation which may prove unfruitful.
Dr. Skoda asked whether a letter drafted over a year ago by the District’s legal counsel would be used, and whether, in fact, counsel would be consulted before proceeding. President Brennan answered in the negative on both counts; in fact, when asked at the September 10th meeting what expenses the District might expect to incur, Brennan vowed to represent the District himself “for free” and to hound any individuals involved with the site all the way to the River Styx (well, maybe he didn’t mention the River).
In short, President Brennan is playing Lone Ranger. Neither he nor anyone else has secured the opinion of non-interested counsel about the merits of pursuing this issue. Brennan DID NOT attempt in any way to explain, or justify, the wisdom of his request for authority to chill the First Amendment rights exercised here – he simply told his brood it should support him. Brennan DID NOT attempt to analyze any of the legal issues we enumerate here.
NOT ONE of the five-member majority asked that any of the potential legal issues be addressed. NOT ONE could be bothered to identify any benefit to be gained from pursuing harassment actions against this website.
ALL FIVE of the five-member majority understand that the April 2013 election threatens their majority position (with four of seven seats being open). ALL FIVE have repeatedly refused to engage in meaningful debate about their positions on any of the issues raised on this site.