Minooka students, community angered over alleged racist comments

Students, parents air concerns about popular principal’s resignation

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Hundreds of people packed an auditorium during a Minooka Community High School District 111 board meeting Tuesday to voice their support for the principal who is resigning – and to accuse a board member of making racist remarks.

Students and staff were surprised and upset by the news that Principal Ronald Kiesewetter was resigning. The district’s director of community relations, Brent Edwards, confirmed that Kiesewetter and the board reached a mutual agreement for him to resign at the end of this school year later this month.

Several students, recent graduates, parents and other community members spoke highly of Kiesewetter, calling him a “great administrator” and a “fearless leader.”

“We’ve heard from multiple teachers he’s the best principal they’ve had contact with,” said Gina Russell, who had just graduated Sunday.

Many present also said they were appalled to hear through social media rumors that his resignation might have come about because he spoke out against the school board member who allegedly made a racist remark.

During the meeting, several students, many of whom just graduated from the high school, claimed that a board member said they did not want an African American to teach their children.

Students said that the board member who allegedly made the comment made it in the context of Kiesewetter wanting to promote the only African American faculty member to a higher position.

After about two hours of public comments, board member Lori Lakota stepped forward and appeared to indicate that she was the board member who allegedly made the comment that most of the speakers referenced but never mentioned by name.

“That comment was never made,” Lakota said. “I never said that. You’re taking a rumor from Twitter and you’re attacking me.”

In an interview with The Herald-News earlier before the Tuesday meeting, Lakota called the allegation a lie and said it was “fake news.”

However, many students, including some students of color, spoke about what they felt was an environment of “racial injustice” within the district. Some students described instances in which they were called derogatory names and saw swastikas drawn on school property, and called for such occurrences to be addressed by the school administration.

Many also criticized the district for employing so few African American faculty and staff members for an increasingly diverse student body. According to the district’s website, the student body was 4.2% African American and 16.8% Latino during the 2016-17 academic year, which was up from 3% and 11%, respectively, from a little more than a decade ago.

Kaleigh Murphy, 18, who just graduated from Minooka Community High School, said that at first, some staff members had told students that their principal was resigning but had been vague about why. However, after she and her classmates had graduated the past weekend, some of the their teachers told them that Kiesewetter had fought back against the board member who allegedly made the comments.

Edwards said the school district was “familiar with what’s going on in the social media feeds,” but that he couldn’t comment on the specifics as to why Kiesewetter resigned. He also said that Tuesday night’s meeting was not related to Kiesewetter’s resignation.

Before the Tuesday meeting, the district said it would not discuss in detail personnel matters.

“I don’t have any information to tell you,” Edwards said when asked about the reason for Kiesewetter’s resignation.

At the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, the board president, Mike Brozovich, reiterated that Kiesewetter’s decision to resign was mutual and that the district hopes to hire a new principal before July 1. He also addressed what he characterized as rumors about the alleged comments made.

“I assure you that these rumors are false,” he said. “I can tell you that the board would never act against any employee for opposing racism.”

Kiesewetter first became principal at Minooka ahead of the 2015-16 school year and previously was the principal at Yorkville High School. When asked, Edwards said he was unsure of when Kiesewetter's contract originally was scheduled to end.

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.