Thursday, May 29, 2014 || By Michael Romain
FOREST PARK — The Proviso East Class of 2014 graduation is over, but there were still hurt feelings in Proviso Township when the District 209 board met May 27.
About a dozen people and Fox 32 television cameras were seen in front of Proviso Math and Science Academy before Tuesday’s board meeting. Protestors held signs complaining about “unfair treatment of students at Proviso East High School.” One woman made a sign of her own done up in Proviso’s trademark colors–a quote plainly written in bold blue marker ink set against a stark white expanse. It read: “Once you decide to go after your dreams, you find yourself under attack from those who dare oppose your dreams.”
Among the protestors was graduating senior Ladarius Sapho, who was at the center of a dispute over who should be valedictorian this year. The Proviso East student maintained a weighted GPA of 4.135. He had been all set to graduate at the top of his class and give a speech fit for the occasion when he got a call from the school’s principal, Tony Valente. Valente informed Sapho a few days before the senior was to graduate that he would not be giving the speech nor would he be valedictorian.
Valente said students must attend the school for at least seven semesters to qualify for valedictorian. Sapho enrolled at Proviso East at the start of his sophomore year.
After complaints, D209 backtracked on its previous decision and allowed Sapho the opportunity to be co-valedictorian, but he declined. Sapho attended graduation ceremonies May 24 at Rosemont Theater with his family, but according to his mother, Bridget Peterson, the school administrators never called his name.
On Tuesday, representatives from organizations such as the Social Policy Institute and Safe Streets, District 209 alumni and other citizens held up signs in front of a Fox 32 camera in solidarity with Ladarius Sapho and his family. Activist and alumnus Antoinette Gray said that the incident involving Sapho fit into a pattern of abuse and bullying by the administration. She said the details would be divulged in the meeting. When they streamed into the auditorium for the board meeting, Fox’s investigative reporter Dane Placko followed them inside.
The protesters were expecting to air their grievances to the Board of Education, but when the time came for public comments Board President Daniel J. Adams informed the audience that they would only entertain those that were pertinent to the night’s special meeting. The Sapho incident was not an agenda item.
After a stream of people gave comments in support of the District implementing a cosmetology and barber program in the District, Mr. Adams ended the public comment portion of the meeting. The protesters were in an uproar.
Della Patterson, who ran unsuccessfully for school board last year, had cleverly managed to interweave her comments on the Sapho incident with other matters pertinent to the night’s meeting.
“You’ve got to listen to the people in the community,” she said. “You are not doing that.”
Chris Foltz, a representative with the Social Policy Institute and a self-proclaimed parliamentarian, yelled from the audience that the Board was violating Robert’s Rules of Order by not allowing comments. Mr. Foltz insisted that, although the Sapho incident wasn’t an item up for public discussion, it was something that the agenda indicated would be discussed in executive session.
Michael DeBartolo, the District’s legal counsel, said that executive session pertained only to action items, while Board President Adams noted that at this meeting, there would be no discussion of non-financial issues.
“What would be the right forum for us to address this?” Fotlz said. He was told that he and anyone else who wanted to comment on the Sapho matter could do so at the next board meeting on June 10th.
The technical ambiguity didn’t stop some people from approaching the podium, anyway. Several other people approached the podium, many others stood at their seats.
When Mr. Adams told one woman who was at the podium to sit down, Windy Pearson, the Vice President of Safe Streets, an organization based on the West Side of Chicago, forcefully retorted that the woman wasn’t a dog.
Mary Morris, who described herself as a former PTO president, said that she thought the District’s handling of the Sapho situation was “unfair.”
At one point, Superintendent Collins-Hart ordered someone to shutoff the public mic. Sensing that things were getting out of hand, Mr. Adams called for a recess.
Mr. Placko, who had earlier chased Superintendent Collins-Hart out of the room, ran behind Mr. Adams for comment. A police officer, who had been called to the school earlier, stood near the podium.
When the protesters left the auditorium, the meeting reconvened. After several more minutes of discussion about the cosmetology and barber program, the Board voted for its implementation. A different kind of reaction broke out in the audience. But this time, there were loud cheers and applause that went unrecorded by Placko’s cameras. VFP
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