CHICAGO (CBS) — The mayor of Waukegan was calling on a local school board member to resign, after she screamed at parents and teachers during a raucous public meeting regarding the ongoing teachers’ strike, prompting the board to call an abrupt halt to the meeting.
Teachers at Waukegan Community Unit School District 60 have been on strike nearly a month. At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, the board said it would limit the time for public comments.
Waukegan Mayor Wayne Motley said he was simply appalled. He was sitting in the third row at the board meeting Tuesday night, when board member Victoria Torres jumped off the stage, and told the audience “Alright, let’s go. I’m a parent, too. Yeah, sit down, shut up! Shut up!”
The audience angrily booed Torres, and board members were forced to end the meeting after only 30 minutes.
“Her conduct was unacceptable, unnecessary, unprofessional; and I think the only thing she should do now is resign her position,” Motley said. “I will contact the board members. I think that she set negotiations back two weeks.”
Motley said, even though emotions were running high at Tuesday night’s school board meeting, Torres should not have reacted that way. She was clearly upset after the crowd repeatedly disrupted the meeting, booing and chanting at the board.
The board abruptly ended the meeting, blaming the audience for “a lack of civility.” At one point, police had to step in and break up a fight between a teacher and another man in the crowd.
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Torres apologized for her outburst:
“I sincerely apologize for my actions last night, and can offer no excuse for them. The tensions of the past few weeks, as well as the personal attacks on my character, my family and my actions, have been nearly unbearable. In the chaos of the Board meeting, where we couldn’t even hear the person next to us, I felt attacked and lost my temper. As a leader, I realize I set a poor example for the students of Waukegan Public Schools, and for the community, and I am truly sorry for how I acted.”
District 60 Board of Education President Anita Hanna said “The Board does not condone disrespectful behavior by any persons, including other Board Members, and we hope the progression of events that transpired last night will never happen again. We request civility of all open meeting attendees and strive to set an example for the community. While we have all felt the pressure of tense negotiations over the past few weeks, we have a responsibility to act as leaders we want our children to admire.”
Teacher Nate Weber said he was “very surprised” at Torres’ outburst.
“From a teaching perspective, telling a crowd to sit down and shut up is certainly not going to accomplish that at all,” he said. “That pretty much is what fired everything up.”
Wednesday morning, Waukegan teachers were back on the picket line, and both sides resumed contract talks at 10 a.m. Teachers and the district have been unable to reach an agreement on the length of the contract, teacher salaries, or healthcare benefits.
Students have missed 18 days of school during a strike that has lasted twice as long as the Chicago Public Schools teachers’ strike in 2012.
Motley said it’s critical for Gov. Pat Quinn to intervene in Waukegan.
“I called him first thing this morning, left a message. He hasn’t returned the call, but I know he will, because someone has to intervene in this; whether it be him or the state board of education,” he said. “Someone has to intervene, because this now has become a personal issue between the teachers and school board, and actually they’re butting heading so severely.”
Wednesday morning, the governor’s office issued this statement:
“Students in Waukegan need to get back to school and we need both sides to work together to get it done now. I have directed Illinois State Board of Education Chairman Gery Chico to meet with school board officials and teachers’ leadership immediately to work towards a swift resolution.”
Elected school board members have not been present at any of the contract negotiations. Parents have said that’s what makes the stalemate so frustrating.