How Not To Be A School District Superintendent: The Elmhurst, IL Edition

from the learning-opportunity dept

It should serve as no surprise that school district superintendents are not somehow universally amazing people. Like any population, there will be good ones and bad ones. All of that being said, it seems that the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly good at highlighting just how bad at the job, not to mention at public relations, some superintendents can be. The most useful example of this came from Georgia, where a school district suspended, then un-suspended, students for posting pictures of just how badly their schools were failing at managing bringing students back during the pandemic.

But a more recent example comes to us from — checks notes — huh, my hometown of Elmhurst, Illinois. Dave Moyer, the superintendent for the Elmhurst public schools, kicked up a local shit-storm for himself a couple of weeks ago when he decided to have an exchange with a revered teacher in his district over the use of masks by teachers.

Last week, District 205 technology teacher Jennifer Leban tweeted, “Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I feel like parents would much rather have teachers talking to students via Zoom WITHOUT masks on instead of WITH… Seems like an obvious choice?”

Moyer responded, “Then take your mask off.”

But Leban, a 2020 Illinois Teacher of the Year finalist, said she does not have her own room, so state regulations bar her from taking off her mask.

For context, while new case counts have been dropping across much of the country, the same is not true for the Midwest. Here in Illinois specifically, new cases have been on the rise since July, including a breathtaking day mere weeks after Moyer’s suggestion that a teacher remove her mask where the state saw nearly six thousand new cases get reported. Leban, by the way, is immunocompromised, making Moyer’s suggestion that she simply remove her mask all the more idiotic. She presented the district with a doctor’s note that recommended she get a remote placement, for which there are some slots in the district, but that request was denied without explanation.

Others, of course, saw the Twitter exchange as well.

In the Twitter discussion, Kim Gwizdala, an English teacher from Glenbard West High School, said it was “absolutely wild to me that your own superintendent would suggest a thing when it is in direct violation with health guidelines and science.”

Moyer took exception to that comment.

“Excuse me. The attorneys have indicated that the interpretation from the State is as follows: Teachers can take their mask off when they are in their rooms by themselves facilitating remote learning. Get your facts straight before you pontificate.”

To Leban, he wrote, “Your entire media center isn’t good enough? OK then.”

Shortly after that, for reasons that should be obvious, Moyer deleted several of those tweets. No public apology came, however. Also, as parents began jumping into the conversation, Moyer chose to block them on Twitter, even though his account is that of the school district’s website, not a personal account. It’s worth noting here that the courts recently ruled that Donald Trump, as a public official, could not block the public from his official account because his control over the account and his status as a public official made that specific space a public forum. Why Moyer’s account, tied to the district’s website, should be any different is anyone’s guess.

In a Twitter discussion last week about an Elmhurst teacher’s position on masks, Alicia Duell, the director of technology and information services at Wheeling School District 21, said Moyer blocked her from his Twitter account. An Elmhurst resident, Duell noted Moyer was the superintendent of her children’s school district.

Meanwhile, an Elmhurst resident emailed Patch over the weekend that she, too, had been banned from the superintendent’s account.

Which brings us to the present, where the public has taken notice of Moyer’s behavior at a recent board meeting and is voicing their complaints.

Last Monday, a number of written comments were read during the public comment portion of the meeting, including those critical of Moyer. Eileen Espinosa, a local resident who once served on a school council in Chicago, said she has “extended grace” to Moyer during the pandemic, but could no longer remain silent.

“His utter lack of leadership is overwhelming and you’re ignoring it is no longer acceptable,” Espinosa said to the board in her comments. “Dr. Moyer’s inability to send communications that help the community to come together in the spring and throughout the summer and into the school year are a repeated reminder that he does not lead our district. He continues to air his grievances and personal opinions on social media.”

There are more, as well. The ultimate lesson here is in just how badly Moyer handled this at every step. One-liners to immunocompromised teachers advising them to take of their masks against both state regulations and common sense is an obvious misstep. Doubling down with sarcasm and snark when called on it, all the more so. Deleting those tweets and thinking this would all go away, rather than simply apologizing, put this on the tee at the Streisand National Open. Going on a parent-Twitter-blocking spree to try to stifle dissent hit the ball right in the middle of the fairway. And the refusal to publicly comment to date on the matter made the Streisand crowd go wild.

When asked for comment about his deleted tweets late last month, Moyer did not directly answer. In an email, he said his public messages should be interpreted as seeking “a balance between safety for all and creating the healthiest learning environment for students. It is time for all of us to move beyond the negativity and keep the focus where it belongs.”

Right now the focus may just be on whether Moyer is the best person to be leading a school district during a pandemic in a state that is suffering under a surge of the virus.

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Comments on “How Not To Be A School District Superintendent: The Elmhurst, IL Edition”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

'Look over there, a distraction!'

In an email, he said his public messages should be interpreted as seeking "a balance between safety for all and creating the healthiest learning environment for students. It is time for all of us to move beyond the negativity and keep the focus where it belongs."

‘Please, everyone, stop looking at what I did wrong and look at other things, things that aren’t relating to me showing just how unfit I am for my position or any position of authority.’

Pretty sure people pointing out how abysmally he acted both initially and in response to questioning very much is ‘keeping the focus where it belongs’, as he’s shown that he most certainly should not have the position he does due to both his lack of professionalism, maturity and honesty and because he’s willing to give wildly dangerous ‘advice’, advice that if followed could literally get someone killed.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Ceyarrecks (profile) says:

Wait,.. What?

to quote: "talking to students via Zoom." ok. stop right there.

can any answer, were there other people in same room with Zoom presenter?
if not, it does not make any logical sense to wear, what is provably INeffective, when there are none others TO. INFECT.
Sooo, in similitude, were they watching Jacques Cousteau swimming in full SCUBA gear underwater, they would hold their breath because they fear the "water" would wash through the video?

(not even addressing the Fact how provably effective adequate nutrition is, and how it is noticably MISSING from,.. every discussion.)

Or do they think they will get infected by their imagination from what they think they see over a Internet Video Call?
Hence all the hullabaloo?

R.H. (profile) says:

Re: Wait,.. What?

Here’s a quote from two lines below the "via Zoom" line that you quoted.

But Leban, a 2020 Illinois Teacher of the Year finalist, said she does not have her own room, so state regulations bar her from taking off her mask. [Emphasis mine]

The point being, she’s not in a room by herself and the state says that she should be wearing a mask as long as that’s the case. All of this ignores the fact that the post also states that she’s immunocompromised and was refused a completely remote position that would have obviated all of this mess.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Wait,.. What?

"Do we expect a superintendent to know whether or not every teacher has a room to themselves? "

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a manager to know about the working conditions of his employees during a major healthcare crisis. Even if he doesn’t, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect him to investigate concerns about working conditions rather than publicly mock employees for their concerns while suggesting actions that would place them in greater danger. It might be acceptable that he doesn’t know the answer off the top of his head, but it’s not acceptable that he so publicly and brazenly ignores teacher concerns.

"His answer on it’s on to the original tweet seems fine."

No, his answer suggests he doesn’t know or doesn’t care about his staff’s working conditions and that he is rejecting any reasonable concerns about their safety, while his office is forcing them to work in unsafe conditions. That’s not fine.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Get off my cyber-lawn! (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Wait,.. What?

Well, since he knew enough to know what her working space was, it would also seem to me that he would know she’d requested remote teaching and been denied…..thus he knew her circumstances. Maybe I’m wrong but he sounds to me like he suffers from rectal-cranial inversion so I’m going to continue thinking he knew and didn’t care.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Wait,.. What?

do they think they will get infected by their imagination from what they think they see over a Internet Video Call

Perhaps the infection is less likely to come in over the internet, and more likely to come in from sharing a room with other people as was stated in the original article which you may have missed.

Yes, Ceyarrecks, MS windows does serve as a great growth and propagation medium for elecronic infections. However, the problem here is real-world infections commonly spread by proximity to other people who are breathing.

The evidence suggests that the superintendent here is no brighter than most, and is an unpleasant person in a public-facing position to boot. His refusal of a reasonable accommodation (available remote teaching position) and his advice to violate the masking laws of his state suggest that he is unfit for position. The school board, being about as bright as most of them, will surely fail to make meaningful response to the superintendent’s failures.

PaulT (profile) says:

"To Leban, he wrote, "Your entire media center isn’t good enough? OK then.""

Why do these people always come across as more petulant children than the students?

Yes, that is what she’s telling you – the fact that she can’t be alone in there means that it’s not good enough for her to safely teach without a mask. A doctor is telling you exactly how to remedy this. This is not hard.

Anonymous Coward says:

Thank Goodness

I’m so relieved people are finally speaking publicly about Moyer. He’s absolutely incapable of doing anything helpful and consistently lies (or tells half-truths) to the public. The board of education and most of the district-level administrators are no different. It’s about time the public start catching on.

Jim says:

Airborne transmission?

I would side with the teacher on this argument.
Any immune compromised person, while outside of their normal environment is in danger of infection. Outside of a known safe area, others can intrude on ones space leaving it compromised for a minimum of thirty minutes. If there is an airflow, heating or cooling, even longer. And, there is a wrinkle in this, called asymptomatic, carriers who are not sick yet, but still shedding the problem. They do not show up in a temperature scan, but still carry the problem. How is this safe for the teacher?
There are many examples in the world of outside of the box remote teaching and learning opportunity. Let the teachers do what they do best, teach.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is the sort of twitter behavior that comes when someone uses an official account as if it were a private one. … or allows his private account to be used as the official one for his office.

We humans will get it right eventually, but there are still harsh spankings given out for misbehavior.

… not that I think Dr Moyer would have reacted better regarding the masks issue, but at least he’d be keeping his non-official chat out of the mess.

TripMN says:

Re: Re:

I haven’t looked into how this school district is set up, but normally the superintendent is a contracted position in the school district that has its multi-year contract voted on and renewed (or not) by the school board. The school board is the elected officials that oversee things and can be voted out.

In a case like this, there is a good question if a close reading of the contract could give grounds for firing the superintendent before the end of the contract. Maybe someone from there should nudge their local school board toward looking into that. It might be the best remedy. Some may call this cancel culture — I call it doing the right thing.

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