Yorkville School District issues statement on open meetings act violation

Y115 School Board is holding fast to its decision to remove ‘Just Mercy’ from curriculum

'Just Mercy' by Bryan Stevenson is being used in the Yorkville High School English II Rhetorical Analysis course.

After being found in violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act by the Illinois Attorney General for a closed session discussion on whether to remove a book from the high school curriculum, Yorkville School District 115 is standing by its decision to remove the book.

The Illinois Attorney General’s office recently determined the Yorkville School District 115 violated the state’s Open Meetings Act when it met in closed session this summer to discuss the removal of the book “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson from the district’s curriculum.

The district issued a statement on Jan. 11 in response to the Attorney General’s decision, which said, “While the Attorney General’s office disagreed with the board’s cited OMA exceptions and directed the Board to release the closed minutes and audio recording [with redactions], it did not challenge the validity of the board’s final action taken on August 7, 2023, in open session, which was properly posted on the meeting agenda.”

During a school board committee meeting on Aug. 7, the board met in closed session, claiming they were discussing the appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance, or dismissal of specific employees of the district. After the closed session, the board reconvened in open session and voted to remove the book from the English II Rhetorical Analysis course.

On Sept. 28, Marseilles resident Mary Grzywa filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office, in which she accused the school board of violating the Open Meetings Act by discussing the book in closed session.

After reviewing the closed session recording, the Attorney General’s Office reported that the board held a lengthy closed session discussion that focused on the appropriateness of curriculum materials without deliberating about specific employees, and therefore the closed session was unwarranted.

The Yorkville school board received the Attorney General’s binding opinion on Dec. 27, which found the board in violation of the Open Meetings Act and ordered the district to release the minutes, transcript and recording of its Aug. 7 closed session discussion.

According to the statement from the district, “the board believed that it was following the proper exceptions allowed by OMA,” and that “the closed session was intended to protect student privacy and to protect the privacy of the employees that were the subject of the complaint.”

The statement also reported, “Relevant documents concerning this matter were released to the public with appropriate redactions in response to Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] requests, in the interests of transparency.”

The district said that the Attorney General’s findings do not affect the validity of the board’s final decision to remove the book from curriculum and they intend to uphold their decision.

According to the Attorney General’s report, the school board has 35 days to appeal the ruling.

The district said in the statement, “The board remains committed to compliance and transparency in its operations.” The board plans to discuss the matter and take public action in response to the Attorney General’s binding opinion at its Jan. 22 regular meeting.