Amanda Grant, a District 209 school board member, seen outside of the Westchester Food Pantry in 2020. | Grant said she’s organizing a listening session for district community members on Nov. 1, since the district won’t live-stream meetings or host its town halls. | File
Thursday, October 28, 2021 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
A District 209 school board member is taking matters into her own hands after school board President Rodney Alexander and D209 Supt. James Henderson decided to suspend the practice of live-streaming board meetings.
Board member Amanda Grant said she’ll host a listening session for parents, students, teachers and staffers in the district on Monday, Nov. 1, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., at the Sheet Metal Workers’ Local 73 Union Hall, 4550 Roosevelt Rd. in Hillside.
“I’m not representing the district on my own, but I am acting as a board member and a community member who will soon be the parent of a student in the district,” Grant said. “Parents and teachers are bringing really important concerns forward and they aren’t being given the attention they deserve. They aren’t being taken seriously, so this is me making myself available to listen.”
Grant’s listening session comes after Alexander and Henderson refused to live-stream a regular board meeting on Oct. 12, ending a district practice that goes back to at least 2017.
Alexander said at the time that he was using his authority as board president to end the practice of live-streaming meetings in order to keep order and in reaction to what he called the teachers’ union’s attempt to disrespect board members. The union and district administration are currently negotiating a new teachers’ contract.
But the range and source of complaints about what’s happening at the district have extended far beyond union matters, with people expressing concerns about the district’s lack of communication, the low staffing, regular fights, high staffing turnover and low morale in school buildings since Henderson’s administrative restructuring took effect earlier this year.
During the Oct. 12 meeting, community members also called for the district to host town hall meetings about issues within the district, which Alexander said he won’t do.
Since Alexander announced the suspension of live-streaming, residents have started recording the meetings on their own and posting them to Facebook.
Community members have also formed the Proviso 209 Cooperative, a private Facebook group designed for people to engage in dialogue about district issues. The founders of the group were behind a popular change.org petition asking Alexander to reinstate the practice of live-streaming. As of Oct. 28, nearly 600 people have signed the online petition.
Earlier this month, Alexander said while he doesn’t plan on going back to live-streaming while he’s board president, he would consider resuming the practice if the community desires for him to do so. He didn’t, however, explain what consensus would look like or what specific criteria would have to be met in order for him to change his mind.
Grant said the decision to stop live-streaming on Oct. 12 took her by surprise and prompted her to record citizen comments herself and post them to Facebook. Grant said she’s asking that community members take it upon themselves to record the meetings if the district doesn’t do so.
“We have to resume live-streaming,” Grant said. “I don’t see how we can claim to be transparent, when we can’t even stream our meetings. Those two ideas are not compatible.”