The Sherrard School Board accepted Ms. Hillary Plog's resignation at the June 18, 2014, board meeting.
The Sherrard School Board accepted Ms. Hillary Plog's resignation at the June 18, 2014, board meeting. There has been an on-going controversy stemming from an alleged confrontation between the Sherrard Elementary Art Instructor, Hillary Plog, and the service dog, Jasper, belonging to 8 year old Kellsey McGuire, who has epilepsy.
A graduate of Barat College, Lake Forest, Ms. Plog was employed by SCSD for six years and taught art at the Kindergarten through Fourth Grade levels. The open position of Elementary School Art Instructor was posted on June 12, 2014, on the Sherrard Community School District (SCSD) Unit 200 website www.sherrard.us.
The resignation comes several months after an alleged conflict between Ms. Plog and a service dog, Jasper. Even though Jasper was a welcomed addition to the Sherrard Grade School in September, 2013, a problem arose between Jasper and Ms. Plog in her classroom. Jasper is a service dog for 8 year old Kellsey McGuire, who has epilepsy. Kellsey emits a scent prior to having a seizure. Jasper is trained to detect the scent and to alert others. As reported in the Aledo Times Record on May 28, 2014, by Cala Smoldt, Kellsey's second grade teacher said that having Jasper, a small, black service dog, by Kellsey's side led to her increased confidence and classroom participation.
Due to the alleged classroom conflict between Ms. Plog and Jasper and the absence of resolution with the Sherrard Administration, the McGuires decided to transfer Kellsey to a private school. At Jordan Catholic School, approximately 10 miles away from Sherrard, Kellsey and Jasper are warmly received and are thriving, according to Joleen Easley, a McGuire family friend.
The McGuire family hired Attorney John Doak to represent them and filed "Due Process" with the SCSD. The events that led to the McGuire's decision to remove Kellsey from the SCSD are being investigated through "Due Process." The Sherrard School District website provides a brief description of Due Process at
"Due Process Hearings are the most formal way to have a dispute between a parent and a school district decided. In general terms, due process hearings have a number of similar features to court proceedings. Just like a court of law, due process hearings can involve formal arguments (often made by lawyers), witness testimony and the use of documentary evidence to make the case for one side or the other. A decision maker called an Impartial Hearing Officer renders a written decision that is legally binding both parties to his/her decision," according to the SCSD website.
Due to the on-going investigation and legal process, the McGuire family and the SCSD are not providing additional public information regarding this matter.
As a result of this dispute, Kellsey and Jasper are now attending Jordan Catholic School and Ms. Plog is no longer employed in Sherrard Community School District Unit 200. According to the minutes of the June 18, 2014, Sherrard School Board meeting, the board accepted the resignation of "Hillary Plog Visual Arts Instructor Winola/Sherrard Grade School effective the end of the 2013-2014 school year." Due Process between the McGuires and the SCSD is in progress. The SCSD did not provide further comment.
During the open forum portion of the May 18, 2014, SCSD monthly meeting, two speakers, Joleen Easley and Jon Zahm, offered their perspectives and suggestions to the Board to resolve the on-going conflict.
Joleen Easley wore the distinctive Sherrard purple school color as streaks in her auburn hair and on a custom designed t-shirt. The front of the t-shirt bore the images of her daughter and Kellsey McGuire, both of whom have been diagnosed with epilepsy. The back of the t-shirt displayed the Maya Angelou quotation that Ms. Easley read when she addressed the Sherrard School Board at the June 18, 2014, meeting.
Ms. Easley read a prepared statement and provided copies of anonymous comments to each Board Member and Superintendent Light. The comments that were made to Ms. Easley expressed the impact of the dispute. The topics that Ms. Easley addressed in her prepared statement were the high taxes paid to the Sherrard School District and the negative impact that the dispute was creating in the community and to Sherrard School District's public image.
"We already pay 55% of our property taxes to the school district, which is not a bargain compared to other districts," said Easley. "I received [comments] from parents and community members. I have confirmed copies of each statement but since there are parts of the board and community that have completely turned on the McGuire family, most parents are too afraid to come forward themselves," Easley said as she handed copies of the anonymous statements to the Board members.
To inspire the Board to resolve the dispute expeditiously, Easley concluded, "I am leaving you with the words of Maya Angelou - 'One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.' I ask you now, to be courageous in your decisions. Not because you are admitting defeat or that you were wrong, but only because it is the right thing to do. It is the right thing for the future of our district, for the future of our community, and for the future of all of our children as they watch this process happen." This quotation was printed on the back of Easley's purple t-shirt.
The second speaker to address the Board was Jon Zahm. Mr. Zahm, Osco, offered his unique perspective as both school board member and a father of three sons with epilepsy. One son has a form of epilepsy that necessitates the use of a service dog. Based on his experience as a current Bureau-Henry-Stark Regional Board of Education trustee and as a former Orion school board member, Zahm suggested ways to be more respectful of the public and to improve communication.
One suggestion was that the closed session of the meeting should take place at the end of the public forum, rather than make the public wait for the closed session to end and the open, public session to begin. During our interview Zahm said, "Right now we are on a break that could last up to two hours. I think that's wrong." On multiple occasions the Sherrard Board has gone into closed session for over one hour while attendees waited for the open session to resume.
Another suggestion was to make public comment easier and more frequent. Zahm said, "This idea of signing up (to speak publicly to the Board) the day before by 1 p.m., that's onerous. That's unnecessary. At the Henry County Board, where I served a two year term, if someone felt moved at the last second to say something, we would allow them to come forward, give their name and address, and allow them to speak for three minutes. No questions asked. At my committee meetings on the Henry County Board, I added a second public comments section. Sometimes the public will see something go on at a meeting, and they may have a new concern or a new opinion to add. They may have observed some of our votes . . . our opinions, so I think, in an ideal situation, you do public comment at the beginning and at the end (of the meeting). That is perfectly permissible under the Open Meetings Act. It's not required, but it's perfectly permissible."
Zahm explained that the Open Meetings Act was a law passed by the State of Illinois and monitored by the attorney general's office that states the requirements to be followed in public meetings and is a "series of transparency good government-type regulations that have been passed over the years by the Illinois legislation. Each member of the board is required to take an on-line training of Open Meetings Act to ensure the regulations are being followed," said Zahm. Information on the Illinois Open Meetings Act, 5 ILCS 120/1 can be obtained at http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=85&ChapterID=2
After he offered to the Sherrard Board suggestions on how to interact with the public in a more open and comprehensive manner, Zahm shifted to a personal level as the father of three sons with epilepsy. One of his twin sons, Joshua, needs a service dog.
In his speech to the Board, Zahm shared some negative experiences that his family, and especially Joshua, endured due to the behavior of some employees at the Shedd Aquarium and a Florida restaurant. These employees did not wish to accomodate Joshua's service dog. Joshua felt the rejection personally. Zahm correlated these experiences with those of Kellsey and Jasper at the Sherrard Grade School, in which most of the personnel accepted Jasper but others did not.
Zahm addressed the Board saying, "The way to avoid problems is through proper training . . . so that the service dog can be welcomed. I know from first hand experience the value of a service dog and the comfort that a service dog can bring to a young person. I'd recommend . . . Let's make this right.
I encourage you to apologize to the family, reimburse them for their legal bills and private school bills, have an in-service to train all staff on the laws and proper conduct around service dogs. Make this right. Give justice for Jasper. Show care for Kellsey. Heal your community. It takes four votes. You have two so far. Make it so."
Those who wish to address the Sherrard School Board at future meetings, must follow SCSD requirements to speak publicly. The SCSD website has conflicting information regarding the procedures and timing required for the public to address the Board.
At the Sherrard Community Unit School District 200 website www.sherrard.us the statement reads, "Request to Address the Board policy requires a written submission of details regarding the person and subject matter to be presented before the board. The completed form must be submitted to the Secretary of the Board of Education no later than 1:00 p.m. on the Tuesday preceding the Board meeting."
On another webpage on the SCSD website states, "Members of the public who wish to address the board prior to action items may sign up with the board secretary prior to 6:00 p.m. Comments are limited to three minutes."
The next Sherrard School Board Meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 16, 2014, at the Sherrard Unit Office, 507 - 3rd Street, Sherrard, Ill., 61281. The meeting starts at 6:00 p.m. and open forum when the public is allowed to address the Board, although officially scheduled at 6:30 p.m., begins immediately after the previous agenda items are completed. If the public wishes to address the Board, the Board Secretary, Becky Breiby, can be contacted at 309.593.4075 for clarification of the process and timeframe requirements.