feature

Jasper County School District #1 issues Cease and Desist – violates voter’s 14th Amendment Rights –

NEWTON, IL. (ECWd) –

Earlier this year, the Jasper County School District #1 Board of Trustees and its attorney issued a “Cease and Desist” letter to board member Jed Earnest – something that carries no legal effect and portrays the board as nothing but schoolyard playground bullies.

This letter was purportedly approved by the school board, but we could find no meeting minutes with any board action authorizing a cease and desist letter for anything. Please remember that the board can do nothing without a majority vote (according to their own policies), which leaves us wondering if this truly was a board action or a vengeful act by the school superintendent and one or more board members acting outside their authority.

The underlying issue prompting the letter was that a board member allegedly forwarded some emails to non-board members and the board was upset about what was forwarded, claiming it to be privileged information. This article is not meant to discuss the actions of Mr. Earnest, but rather to point out the actions of the board and how their actions violate voter’s civil rights.

In the letter, the attorney who wrote it described how the school board would violate every voter’s 14th amendment right to vote and have their vote count. Here’s how they are doing it:

  • alienate an elected board member by refusing to provide him access to the same information other board members have access to
  • blanket denial of access to confidential district information
  • blanket rescinding of board member’s access to district’s drop-box account
  • deny board member’s access to non-confidential information in the same format and under the same conditions provided other board members – which means a delay in providing the information

By refusing to provide the information this board member needs to do his elected job, he is put in a disadvantage to other board members who have immediate access to the very information he is being denied.

Every voter in this school district is being denied their 14th amendment right, a civil right, to vote and to have their vote count. A vote does not count when the elected public official is denied the tools needed to accomplish his elected duties while other board members have those tools.

Whether you agree with or disagree with this board member’s thoughts, actions, or political leanings, you should be outraged at the school board for violating the civil rights of all voters in the district. This is not how public business works, the district does not have any lawful authority to “dole out information by the teaspoonful” as they see fit depending on which board member requests it. The voters get to do that at the next election if they agree or disagree with his actions.

This is best illustrated by reading transcripts from Ebert v. Thompson:

  • It wasn’t up to one or the other of them to be the keeper of the conscience of all the other people or to impose extra statutory requirements upon this exchange of information among public officials
  • “the elected public official is entitled to reasonable access to the books and records necessary to perform that function. That reasonable access cannot be doled out by the teaspoonful”
  • “The public has an interest in seeing that their elected officials perform the function they were elected to do”
  • “Those limits will be decided by the voters. If she abuses her office. . . I’m sure that is a matter that will be brought to the attention of the voters.” 
  • quoting from another appellate court case [Wayne Twp v. Vogel]: “when there was a list of admittedly sensitive information at stake, the Appellate Court has no problem in just deciding almost summarily that as an elected public official, there should be a free exchange of information, period, and there is nothing more to argue about.”

The bottom line is this: The voters will decide at the next election if these board members are doing what they were elected to do.
.

16 replies »

  1. The last paragraph on the first page contains some profoundly serious allegations, that if true, would give the school’s attorney just cause for action against the board member, however, they are weighty enough that I would imagine the statutes named would also have a more authoritative remedy for said violations and in the odd event that they don’t have a remedy for a violation within the statute itself, then charges under the state statute for “official misconduct” would be appropriate, in my opinion. The fact that a “cease and desist” letter was the mode they chose to remedy the alleged problem, however, leads me to conclude that the allegations may be completely false… or it may be the first attempt at a reasonable attorney to rein in a rogue elected official before pulling out the big guns. Without all the facts, it is difficult to weigh in with any definitive opinion, however, I cannot emphasize enough that the allegations stated in the last paragraph on the first page are extremely serious, and if true, can absolutely put the school district in serious jeopardy.

  2. I think understanding what Earnest did and the evidence they had to prove he did what they said he did may (or may not) justify the action they took. I don’t see any of that linked in the article. I would like to see all the facts before I weigh in?? Is there a document that lays the case out against him — does it exist? Hard to believe the board would do that without just cause because they in turn could be sued and get in a lot of trouble.

    • The article clearly states it was only about the school board’s actions and not about Earnest’s actions. regardless of what he did or did not do, the board was wrong in what they did in response.

      • Is their a constitution of sorts or some kind of a code for board members? Is there any penalty for breaking it is my question? Can a board discipline one of their own? Admittedly I know very little about how school board’s operate.

        This looks like a court case to me seeing as how you quoted one. I’m sure there will be lawyers involved from here. Bad deal for all involved because of the expense that will generate.

        • The Board possesses no constitutional or legal authority to discipline one of its own. That would defeat the purpose of electing board members and allow a board majority to discipline and remove minority board members as they see fit.

  3. The electronic agenda sounds like a great idea. I may even bring that very idea up at a board meeting.

    My main issue with this article is it painting the rest of the board as bullies without even considering the behavior that prompted the cease and desist to begin with. It basically implies that no matter what a board member does that there are no repercussions because they are an elected official, every vote has to count so you can’t hold them accountable any other way other than at the ballot every four years. Consequences exist for misbehavior. If you forward student records, something has to be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The rest of the students have to be protected somehow from a repeat incident.

    As someone who voted for the Mr. Earnest, I’m full of regret. IHSA complaints from alleged incidents 6 years ago aren’t helping us figure out how to fund the district. These seem like very petty issues for a board member to focus on. I want a board who goes after big rocks and that’s balancing the budget and helping us survive in a state that’s broke. He’s not helping with any of that but does seem very focused on FOIA requesting our self funded soccer program, blessings in a backpack and the boosters. How is any of that information relevant to the huge issues we face as a district? Without blessings many kids would go without food and school supplies. Why pick on them? I just don’t get it.

    This is the last comment I’m leaving, but I am very disappointed at the one sidedness here. Has the board done everything with perfection? Absolutely not. But to call them bullies and give Jed a free pass is biased and not fair and balanced.

    With respect,
    A concerned Jasper County resident

  4. Here is another issue with this board.
    The Jasper County CUD 1 Board does not provide an electronic board agenda packet to the public prior to board meetings.
    Thus, the public does not have access (unless they submit a FOIA) to public documents discussed and voted on at board meetings.
    An electronic board agenda packet would contain the documents to be discussed at the open session board meeting, in one consolidated pdf.
    Electronic board agenda packets should be searchable (allow use of find feature) and allow copy and paste (copy from the agenda packet and paste to another document to consolidate information).
    Such an electronic board agenda packet would also benefit board members, if they don’t already receive an electronic board agenda packet prior to the board meeting.

  5. Journalism 101 – spell your subjects last name correctly.

    EARNEST

    Totally petty to willfully forward an email with a kids grades and mental health status in the email. Not a big deal at all. Have you even read it? Check the FOIAs!!

    The reason voters aren’t outraged is because most would take their vote back if they could. In other words, no one cares what the board did. Pales in comparison to what others have done.

    Having multiple aliases with the same IP is so fun though!!

    • Rules of Apostrophes 101 – it’s “subject’s last name”

      The “Petty Offense” reference is taken from the Illinois Student Records Act, not a reference to whether it is a “petty” issue or a big deal.

      A link to the FOIA would help since you apparently know where it is.

    • Thanks for mentioning the FOIA requests online – I have started reviewing them and I noticed it was really convenient for the School Board President’s wife to be the one filing the complaint against Mr. Earnest. Nothing like retribution for complaining to the IHSA – and is that the reason his complaint to the board about it didn’t go anywhere – because of who’s child it was? this is getting ore interesting by the minute.

      • And to be honest, I’ve heard from others Jed has denied making the call to the IHSA, though in another FOIA response he seems to confirm it in a letter to the superintendent. The bottom line to me is that Michelle’s email should have never been sent to members of the general public. That kids grades and some very personal info was in it, and as a parent I find it scary that a board member could do that.

  6. Oh good Lord, painting Jed as anything other than a bully who picked on a kid because he didn’t like his family is really a stretch. I voted for Jed. He hasn’t done a thing to help our district manage money, only peddled conspiracy theories about charitable organizations and “accidentally emailed” his bosom buddies while “building a website” (yeah right). I’m mad our district has wasted tax dollars on a lawyer due to his bizarre behavior. Breaking the Illinois student records act is also a crime so the fact that the board censured him makes sense but then again you guys don’t seem real keen on breaking a story covering that. The real tragedy here is the money our district has wasted on attorney fees due to this guys. Had I looked at his judici record before April 2015 I would’ve voted differently. How can someone who’s apparently been taken to court for not paying his bills help a district manage theirs? Be careful watchdogs. Jedro isn’t as innocent as you think.

    • Do you have any proof that he picked on a kid because he didn’t like his family?

      What “conspiracy theories” has he peddled?

      You should be mad at the district for wasting money on this, there was no need to spend anything on it.

      It is a petty offense if it was willful – the equivalent of a general speeding ticket. If you call that a “crime” then you would be hard-pressed to find any “non-criminal” to vote for…

      One small claim, from more than 10 years ago, for less than $3k, hardly amounts to what you may claim.

      Please remember your reading comprehension classes from grade school and read the article again. It was all about the actions of the school board, and even stated it was not an opinion on any of the actions of Mr. Earnest. Whatever he did or did not do, the school violated the 14th amendment rights of every voter in the school district and is also withholding records without authority.

      No need to keep changing your username – the IP address stays the same.

Leave a witty comment