D86 Board President's Request to Go After Controversial Website Will Get Vote
Dennis Brennan said his request for authorization to send a cease-and-desist letter to the operators of Hinsdale High Schools is about proprietary rights of the district; board member Richard Skoda said it's about politics.
The District 86 Board of Education will indeed vote later this month on an item that would authorize Board President Dennis Brennan to send a cease-and-desist letter to the operators of Hinsdale High Schools, a website often critical of the district that Brennan and several other board members believe is violating the district’s trademark policy with its name.
“We have a right to our name, we have a copyright, and a trademark right,” Brennan said during a Monday night discussion that got heated on a couple of occasions.
The president, who wasn't present last month to provide context for his request, said he believes the use of Hinsdale High Schools as the title of the website violates Board Policy 8.22 which, according to its wording, is:
“… intended specifically for community organizations within District 86 which utilize District 86 names in their titles, but which are not directly subject to governance by District 86. Such usage would include: ‘Hinsdale Central,’ ‘Hinsdale South,’ ‘Hornet,’ ‘Red Devil,’ ‘Devil,’ ‘Ice Devil,’ or any variation on these titles or other name or title commonly identified with District 86 and in which District 86 has a protectible interest, in the name of the organization or associated with or used to describe the organization.”
Board member Richard Skoda, who took part in some verbal back-and-forth with Brennan Monday night regarding Skoda’s past connection to the website, disagreed with the president and said he does not think the name infringes on any district trademarks.
“Words like ‘high school’ and ‘Hinsdale’ seem to be generic,” Skoda said.
The other two board members who expressed opinions, Kay Gallo and Jennifer Planson, both said they were in support of authorizing the cease-and-desist letter.
Planson said she has heard from community members who have been confused when the Hinsdale High Schools website pops up during a Google search for official district websites.
“According to our policy, they are in violation,” Planson said.
Skoda asked what had changed since the board did not throw its support behind a similar Brennan request last year. Gallo said, for her, it was the fact that there is now an email address on the website that a letter can be sent to.
Hinsdale High Schools, found at www.hinsdalehighschools.com, publishes anonymously written posts that are often critical of District 86’s administration and board.
“Many have asked why we do not put names on our posts,” the site’s welcome page reads. “The reason is that our posts are about issues - not about individuals. Judge us for the ideas expressed here - not whether you like who we are.”
During the run-up to the 2011 school board election, the site was listed as the website of The Final Three slate of candidates—Bruce Davidson, Richard Skoda and Claudia Manley—in their campaign emails.
Skoda was the only one of the three to win a spot on the board.
Brennan confronted Skoda about his connection to the website Monday night.
“I am convinced that the people that have something to do with [the site] are you, Bruce Davidson and Claudia Manley,” Brennan said.
Skoda said he does not have an operating interest in the website.
“Dennis, if you’re asking me to pull down the website, I wouldn’t know who to contact and I cannot do it myself,” Skoda said.
The board member said he thinks Brennan is going after the site because of its content, not because of its name.
“This proposal has nothing to do with protecting the district's interests or resident confusion,” Skoda said. “It basically is an effort to stifle political discourse.”
A vote on the item is expected to be on the board’s Sept. 24 meeting agenda.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also want to read these ones: