District 181 board members will be freer to communicate with community members outside of board meetings if a policy change discussed Monday is approved for public posting at the board's next regular business meeting.
Policy 2:140 (found online here) stipulates what communication board members can have with each other and the District 181 community members. It currently says that if a community members reaches out to an individual board member, the board member will refer to the “appropriate channel of authority” and not take “any private action that might compromise the Board or administration.”
Neither of those stipulations would be removed from the policy in the proposed new version, but wording was added that allows individual communication with community members.
“Board members may express their opinion as an individual when contacted by community members,” the proposed additional language reads. “Board members may also seek additional information and communicate directly with community members to better understand community members’ concerns and issues.”
No action was taken on the policy at Monday's committee of the whole meeting at in Clarendon Hills; it was instead a time for board members to discuss and modify the proposed policy change. Most of that, however, had already been done during a prior meeting.
Changing the policy was first introduced at the board's Oct. 17 committee of the whole meeting. The change was originally meant only to add language approved by the Policy Reference Educational Subscription Service (PRESS) that defined electronic communication and what it could be used for by board members.
But board member Brendan Heneghan said at the Oct. 17 meeting that the policy as a whole was confusing. He said the policy welcomed comments from the community and emphasized the importance of the board’s communication with the community, while at the same time instructing board members to simply pass along to administration all inquiries.
Heneghan said that when community members email board members and don’t get a response, they may feel they are being ignored and that “exacerbates the problem” if the communication is regarding a divisive issue.
“It doesn’t foster a relationship that you want with the community,” Heneghan said.
Superintendant Dr. Renée Schuster was open to board members expressing personal opinions to community members, but said an important part of the policy is that it prohibits board members from communicating to community members on behalf of the entire board.
“It’s a balance between responding to people so they’re heard, but responding in a manner that doesn’t say, 'The board is going to take care of this,'” Schuster said.
Board member Yvonne Mayer said senators and other politicians respond to questions and complaints from constituents, and it should be no different for District 181 board members.
“If we’re contacted and if we want to take the time to respond to a constituent … we should be able to do that,” Mayer said. “I don’t think that compromises our ability to work as a group.”
Policy 2:140 does not stipulate how board members are expected to communicate with the media. According to District 181 communications director Rita DuChateau, that relationship is defined in Policy 2:110.
The board will vote on the policy change at its Nov. 28 regular business meeting. If approved, the policy change will be posted for public viewing.