The fallout from a judge’s decision Friday to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a board member against the president of the board of education and the superintendent spread over Monday night’s school board meeting like an angry dark cloud.
Board member Dianne Barrett had sought a court order to gain access to documents pertaining to the district’s special education program.
But , citing restrictions delineated in the Illinois Student Records Act. Board President Dennis Brennan, named as a defendant in the suit along with Superintendent Nicholas Wahl, passed out a copy of the judge’s order to board members Monday night during their regular monthly meeting at .
“This case cost us over $50,000 to defend,” Brennan said. “In the six-and-a-half years I’ve been on this board, I’ve never seen any other board member waste $50,000 in one swoop.”
“I did not request that the district spend $50,000,” Barrett responded. “We have a law firm that I believe, at times, has charged the district more than I would anticipate.”
Brennan read a portion of the order, which said a school official has a right to access the type of student records Barrett sought only if the official has a “current, demonstratable educational or administrative interest in the student.”
“That’s exactly what I had,” Barrett said, “an interest in the student.”
“This says you don’t,” said Brennan, referring to the judge’s order. “Thanks for wasting 50 grand. … I’ll ask you to now pay the district back.”
Board member Richard Skoda took exception to Brennan passing out of copies of the judge’s order.
“Mr. Brennan, I would hope you’d make a precedent, when all legal matters are concluded that the district is involved [in], of also alerting the board and the audience and also posting all of them on the website, and not just cherry-picking … issues.”
“Well, I could do that,” Brennan said. “I can tell you we have a very good record of, when we’re sued, winning.”
Brennan said he hoped this would be the end of the litigation on the matter, noting that an appeal would cost the district additional legal fees. Barrett said she had not decided whether to appeal.
“I have 30 days to make my decision,” she noted.
Barrett once again defended her decision to seek a court order giving her access to the documents, saying there were “a lot of unhappy parents” of special education students in the district.
“I decided it was in the best interest of myself to find out what the problems were in the special ed department,” she said. “I hope that this board will now have a discussion as to whether we look at those documents as board members before I decide whether I’m going to appeal or not.”