February 19th, 2019 1:00 PM
D103 now has a fact-check page on its website, with a co-interim superintendent saying he was "not going to let stand" social media posts and other information about the district that was not factual.
By Bob Skolnik
It's not often that an item on a school district's website calls out a sitting school board member for allegedly lying. But that is what's currently posted on the Lyons School District 103 website in a new feature called "Fact Checking Information."
The first item in new Fact Checking section of the District 103 website challenges the veracity of a portion of a Facebook post made by school board member Jorge Torres, who is running for re-election as part of a slate that is apparently backed by Lyons Village President Christopher Getty.
On Jan. 25, Torres made a post on the Facebook page of Parents for Student Excellence, the group that is supporting Torres's slate. In his post Torres wrote that he had received "many calls from parents" that morning wondering if school was open that day and saying that school buses "never came for their kids."
He also wrote that parents were not able to get in contact with the school district and that even his calls to the district were not returned.
"Even as a board member my calls have not been answered to the administration or superintendent," Torres wrote. "Unfortunately communication is NOT priority for our district. We need change."
The Fact Checking Information page on the website reproduced Torres' post, incorrectly stating that it was made on Jan. 28, and then proceeds to refute it.
The entry posted by the district, which is led by co-interim superintendents Robert Madonia and Patrick Patt, says that some buses were late on a snowy day and the fact that school was open was clearly posted on the district's website. It went on to state that Torres never called the district office during that that time period.
"Mr. Torres never received a return call from the superintendents because he NEVER placed the call," the Fact Checking Information item states. "There are no messages from him on any of our answering machines."
Madonia, who makes the call of whether to open schools on bad-weather days, wrote the fact check item. He said that he needed to correct the record.
"I'm not calling him a liar, I'm just saying that the information that he has put forth is not accurate," Madonia said.
Torres has not replied to requests for comment sent to him via email and Facebook through the Parents for Student Excellence Facebook page.
While it is uncommon for superintendents to call out sitting board members, Madonia said that he had no alternative.
"What is the choice, short of allowing false information to be out there, particularly when it is directed at me saying that he called me and I wouldn't return his call?" Madonia asked. "That's not accurate information and I'm not going to let that stand, because that's a reflection on me."
Madonia said he prides himself on returning phone calls.
"I do not want the public to perceive that I would have a board member call me and never get back to him," Madonia said.
Madonia said he wasn't trying to get involved in the school board election, but said he felt he had to correct misinformation, even if it came from a sitting board member.
"I'm going to clarify the facts regardless of who states it incorrectly," Madonia said.
Soon the school district will send out a robocall to parents informing them of the new fact-checking feature on the website and asking them to check the accuracy of information about the district that they hear about or read on social media.
The idea for the fact-checking section came after district officials felt stung by a wave of bad publicity last fall about the hiring of a middle school teacher who, unbeknown to the district at the time he was hired last summer, was facing charges of attempted murder.
Torres was featured in television news interviews saying that the district's background check was inadequate and criticizing the administrators and the school board majority.
"Information posted on social media and in the media has not always been accurate," said Madonia in a press release announcing the debut fact-checking feature of the district's website. "The site will state and clarify all facts. We invite our community to visit this site regularly."
The teacher, Andres Rodriguez, was immediately placed on leave when district officials learned of the charges against him and has since been fired for not being completely truthful on his job application.
The Lyons-Brookfield District 103 news the school board voted 5-2 at its Feb. 11 meeting to formally adopt a policy limiting public comment to 15 minutes per topic at school board meetings.
Board members Jorge Torres and Michael Bennett voted against the 15-minute limit.
The move comes after the Illinois Attorney General ruled last month that school board president Marge Hubacek violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act at its Oct. 22 meeting when she cut off public comment after more than 15 minutes of comment, mostly criticizing the board for its hiring of teacher Andres Rodriguez, who had been charged with attempted murder, but whose alleged criminal act eluded the district's background check.
The Attorney General's Office ruled that limiting public comment on a single topic to 15 minutes was only allowed if such a policy was formally voted on and approved by the school board and added to the board's policy manual.
Hubacek said that the change only formalizes a practice that the board had adhered to for years.
— Bob Skolnik
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