Editorial: District 118 must explain details behind student settlement payment
In paying a $22,500 settlement to a student's family, Wauconda Area Unit District 118 officials have put the community's trust on the line.
Taxpayer money was spent on the settlement without any explanation about why one was needed. The agreement includes special training for Wauconda High School employees but we don't know why or the topic.
What happened to this student that prompted the district to write a check to the family? Was it something criminal or a public safety issue? We don't know because any discussion took place behind closed doors, and the community has been kept in the dark.
Superintendent Dan Coles and Wauconda High School Principal Dan Klett couldn't be reached to discuss the details. Julia Nadler, the assistant superintendent of special services, and elected school board members, who approved the settlement, won't comment.
A copy of the settlement provided to the Daily Herald in response to a request filed under the Freedom of Information Act was so heavily redacted it only raises more questions. The district will say only that secrecy is needed to protect the student's identity. However, because taxpayer money is involved, as well as the conduct of public school business, more answers are needed about what happened.
District 118 officials have a responsibility to the community to strike a more transparent balance here, one that adequately informs the public of the reason for the settlement while ensuring the student is not identified.
We have appealed to the attorney general's office to force District 118 to provide more information.
Here's what we know: The school board approved the deal after a closed-door discussion on a matter "related to an individual student," the agenda for the May 2 meeting states.
This week, District 118 officials sent the Daily Herald a heavily redacted, electronic copy of the eight-page agreement. It calls for the district was to make a one-time payment of $12,500 within 15 days of the agreement's approval. The student's parent also was to receive a payment of $10,000 to go toward an expense.
But the nature of that expense was blacked out, as was information that included sections identifying the student, the student's parent and the parent's complaint. The district agreed to provide training to Wauconda High staff on professionalism concerning communications with and about a subject that was redacted. The settlement included language concerning the duties of a specific teacher and another employee, but those details also were blacked out.
We agree protecting the student and his or her family is critical.
However, the community also needs protection and has rights, including knowing why tax money was spent on this settlement.