Cary District 26 school board keeps leadership as it returns to in-person meetings

Dozens of people attend the Cary School District 26 board meeting Monday, April 25, 2022, to see students perform, the first time such an activity had happened before the board since before the pandemic.

When students recited their speech tournament dialogues and poetry before dozens of attendees at the latest Cary School District 26 board meeting Monday, it was the first time any students performed before the board since before the pandemic.

The school board returned to in-person meetings last month after switching to virtual in September. The move to virtual followed an incident on Aug. 30 in which parents refused to comply with district mask policies and the police were called in.

Despite high praise for the students, several parents in attendance were less warm towards the school board, which voted to maintain the current board leadership of President Deanna Darling and Vice President Melinda Hartman at the meeting.

“You board members are disgusting and out of control, and your lack of better judgement for Cary was pure evil,” Cary resident Monika Gwizdz said Monday. “The board never had the right to make health or personal choices for our kids. As long as I am breathing, you will never again be given the opportunity to do so.”

Another Cary resident and parent, Eric Hafferkamp, accused the board of “stripping parents of their civil rights” and urged every board member to immediately resign.

District 26 was one of about 145 school districts, eight of them in McHenry County, named in a lawsuit last year challenging the governor’s mask mandate and other COVID-19 mitigations for schools.

Children hold signs during a Cary School District 26 anti-mask rally Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, along Three Oaks Road at Cary-Grove Park. The event was attend by about 100 people and organized by the Illinois Parents Union Cary.

After a Sangamon County judge issued a temporary restraining order saying only the legislature had the authority to issue such mandates, District 26 was one of two McHenry County districts that decided to keep the masking requirements for all but those named in the lawsuit, leading to protests.

The school district, as did the state as a whole, later dropped the mask requirement.

Hartman, who nominated Darling to continue as board president, said Darling had done a “fantastic job” and conducted herself with integrity despite it being a difficult role.

Darling referred a request for an interview by the Northwest Herald to Superintendent Brian Coleman, who said that meetings “were progressing in a normal fashion” since the switch from virtual sessions.

Coleman said public feedback and input were important to the district and at the moment, the district had no plans to switch back to virtual.

“The district’s goal has been to do everything we could to keep our students safely in school this year,” Coleman said. “We realized that not everyone would agree on what mitigation strategies to use or not to use, but we are entering our last month of school and have not missed a single day of in-person learning this year.”

Coleman added that some feedback from the community has expressed appreciation that students were back in school.

The board members will serve in their officer positions for one year, until April 2023.

Editor’s note: This article was updated on Thursday afternoon to include a statement from Coleman, who had agreed to a phone interview with the Northwest Herald but asked the questions be sent instead in writing. Coleman’s response to the questions was sent Wednesday afternoon but was caught in the newspaper’s spam filter.