A former Minooka Community High School District 111 Board member who resigned in May after she was accused of racism is now saying she was used as a "scapegoat."
Lori Lakota sent The Herald-News a four-page written statement about the events leading up to her resignation in May and accused the former District 111 principal of starting a rumor about her saying she wouldn't want a black teacher to teach her children.
Lakota vehemently denied the accusation. In her statement and in an interview Monday, she accused former Minooka High School Principal Ronald Kiesewetter of "misrepresentation of facts and spreading rumors."
The issue stemmed from a discussion about hiring practices at a Feb. 14 board meeting, Lakota said. The board discussed "staff demographics" and how it related to the district's strategic plan. Lakota said Kiesewetter suggested using staff demographics as a way to measure if the district was following its plan. Lakota said she questioned the suggestion.
In her statement, she recalled asking Kiesewetter, "How will knowing the demographics of the teachers tell us if we are recruiting, developing and retaining great teachers?" Kiesewetter did not respond, Lakota said.
She also said there were "many contentious issues" between Kiesewetter and the district board, although she declined to expound on what those contentions were.
Lakota said Mike Brozovich, the board president, told members at a March 14 meeting that Kiesewetter started a rumor she had made a racist comment.
"The entire board was in shock," Lakota wrote in her statement. She said that the board, Superintendent Kenneth Lee and Assistant Superintendent John Troy all were in agreement that no racist comment was made.
"It was also unanimously agreed by the board that Mr. Kiesewetter would be held accountable for his actions because he could not be trusted," Lakota wrote in her statement. "Misrepresentation of facts and spreading rumors were the last straw after many contentious issues between the board and Mr. Kiesewetter."
Lakota said she thought the board should ask Kiesewetter to resign instead of firing him, which she said the board agreed to in April.
"I didn't want to ruin his life," she said. "I wanted him to be employable again."
Kiesewetter eventually did resign. After staff and students learned about his resignation, many were upset.
A special board meeting was held May 21 in which hundreds of students, staff and community members came to defend Kiesewetter and voice their opposition to his resignation. At the time, many students understood Kiesewetter's resignation came about because he'd spoken up against the racist remark.
Lakota said the large crowd was "absolutely a surprise" to her. She said in her statement that Brozovich told the board not to respond to the public comments.
Some students also described an environment of "racial injustice" and recounted numerous instances of racist actions against students of color within the district.
Several speakers also made references to the rumor of a board member making racist comments, without specifically mentioning Lakota.
Lakota initially wasn't going to say anything, as Brozovich advised, and "sat there in silence ... and choking back tears," according to her statement. After two hours of public comments, Lakota stepped forward to defend herself.
"That comment was never made," she told the crowd. "I never said that. You're taking a rumor from Twitter and you're attacking me."
Before that meeting, she told The Herald-News the rumor was a lie and "fake news."
On Monday, Lakota said she recalled wanting other board members and administrators to publicly back her up. Brozovich did read a statement at the beginning of that May 21 meeting in which he called the rumors false and that "the board would never act against any employee for opposing racism."
Still, Lakota said she wanted her colleagues to do more to defend her, specifically blaming Brozovich, Lee and Troy.
"I will never forgive them for that," she said. "And I have no respect for those three men."
Lakota said that on May 25, Brozovich and another board member went to her home to ask for her resignation. She said in her statement that Brozovich told her "it would be best if I resigned, and that if I did not, he would introduce a vote to censure me." She said that Brozovich said she could be censured for speaking in "harsh tones" at board meetings and reaching out to conservative commentators via social media for school textbook recommendations, among other reasons.
She said she felt Brozovich was "using me as a scapegoat" and that her resignation would "put to rest" the accusations of racism against the district.
Lakota described that time as "one of the worst weekends of my life," in her statement. She said she heard from administrators and community members about threats made against her on social media. She said she "began to have panic attacks and went into a deep depression."
She ultimately resigned about a week after the meeting. She said she decided to speak out to "expose the truth."
"I remain proud of the work that I did on the board," she said in her statement. "I was always concerned with promoting excellence in our students, teachers and administration."
Minooka District 111 spokesman Brent Edwards declined to comment on Lakota's accusations and said in an email, "We as a district are moving forward from last spring and have no further comment on Ms. Lakota or her perspectives on the events she describes. We wish her and her family nothing but the best."
Brozovich responded to Lakota's statement in an email.
"While Mrs. Lakota and I have differing recollections of how the events last spring unfolded, I have nothing to say about her allegations made against me and my family," Brozovich said in the email. "It was a very difficult time for all those involved. As far as I am concerned, this is a district matter that is closed."