NORMAL – Last month, during the only regular meeting held, members of Normal-based Unit 5 School District’s Board, four students asked the Board to consider changing the name of the holiday held every second Monday in October from Columbus Day to “Indigenous People’s Day.” That triggered a request from Board Member David W. Fortner to ask the district to have a resolution making the change in the name ready for a vote at the Board’s next meeting April 11. At the Board’s regularly scheduled meeting at district headquarters, Board members heard the results of the research the matter produced. Members of the district administration will report back to the students who made the request.

Curt Richardson, attorney for Unit 5, explained to Board members that after having researched State school code, a change in the name of the day is permissible. He also said State school code also allows for days to be designated Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The State’s General Assembly has already designated the last Monday in September to be honored as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, he explained. He added the district has no specific curriculum for Columbus Day.

Ray Epperson, deputy superintendent, contributed to the presentation, explaining students in fourth and sixth grades and at the high schools, for example, receive some instruction concerning how the country was discovered, but it’s the older students who learn about Indigenous Peoples.

Board Member Mike Trask asked if there were options the group recommended. The third member of the research team, Dayna Brown, director of communication and community relations for the district, told Board members she wants to go back to the students who made the original request and present what the Board members decide on the matter.

If after hearing from Brown about the discussion at the meeting and they still aren’t satisfied, Board Member Barry Hitchins suggested, the students who brought this to the Board’s attention should take it up with State legislators. He named State Sen. Dan Brady and State Sen. Jason Barickman as two who the kids could take their case to.

Board Member David W. Fortner asked the trio what penalty would the district face should it decide, for example, to opt to say no to honoring Columbus Day. Richardson said doing that would put the district’s recognition as a school district by the State in jeopardy. Trask added that the discussion sounded like the district was talking about going against State school code, and that was something he objected to.

Board Member Meta Mickens-Baker said she wasn’t comfortable with providing another day away from school for this.

“We can’t fight legislators over Columbus Day,” Board Member Joe Cleary said. “We’re already fighting with them over funding.” He said he thought a “commemorative” day could be an alternative to what was being considered. The Board anticipates voting on the matter at a future meeting.

Transportation Update: Board members received a brief report from officials representing the bus company which provides student transportation for the district, Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co., including location manager Mark Bohl. The district has worked with the company to begin a customer liaison program which will keep watch for customer issues and work to improve accuracy of bus service. Bohl told Board members First Student has managed to improve their service over the past year.

Last Day Of School Set: As part of their omnibus agenda, Board members unanimously approved that Wednesday, May 23 will be the last day of school for students in the 2017-18 school year.

New Bus Purchases Approved: Board members unanimously approved a purchase of two 34-passenger buses at a cost of $64,521 each. The buses are both equipped with wheelchair lifts and were purchased using money left over from $7 million in working cash bonds Board members have approved over the last two years.

Hayek Departing Soon: At the next Board meeting, Board President Jim Hayek, Jr. will not be present. At that meeting, slated for April 25 meeting, new officers – President, Vice President, and Secretary – will be selected. Hayek said he has not set a resignation date. A job transfer to Phoenix, Ariz. announced at the only meeting the Board had last month is the reason for his resignation. Under State law, the Board will have 45 days from the date the resignation takes effect to appoint a successor. Also, that person would have to run for election the spring of the next election cycle.

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