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Education Desk
The Education Desk is our education blog focusing on key areas of news coverage important to the state and its improvement. Evidence of public policy performance and impact will be reported and analyzed. We encourage you to engage in commenting and discussing the coverage of education from pre-natal to Higher Ed.Dusty Rhodes curates this blog that will provide follow-up to full-length stories, links to other reports of interest, statistics, and conversations with you about the issues and stories.About - Additional Education Coverage00000179-2419-d250-a579-e41d385d0000

Education Desk: North Mac Parents Want Superintendent Gone

Dusty Rhodes
NPR Illinois/Illinois Issues

Parents in the North Mac school district are asking for the dismissal of superintendent Marica Cullen. 

Wednesday night, the school board moved its meeting from the district’s small media center to a gym-size cafeteria, but there still weren’t enough seats for all the parents. When they finally got to speak, at the end of a three-hour meeting, they delivered a petition with 466 signatures asking the board to get rid of the superintendent.

Cullen hasn’t returned my phone and email messages, but she did talk to me more than a year ago, about the very incident that set this controversy in motion -- a carbon monoxide leak that sent about 170 students and staff to the emergency room.

The reason we were talking: the Illinois legislature had just passed a law requiring all schools to install carbon monoxide detectors. And clearly, I was wrong -- the story had not ended “okay.” Listening back, I could hear how careful Cullen was to avoid saying that everything was fine.

In fact, the district is being sued.

Gordon Johnson is representing three students and four staff members. So far. He plans to open an office in Girard, because he believes there will be more litigants.

The damage to Superintendent Cullen came when parents began trying to figure out exactly what happened and who to blame. David Harmon, a parent who leads one of several groups organized around getting rid of Cullen, says parents have been given varying versions of what led to the CO leak.

The incident heightened awareness of the dangers of gas leaks, and it seems every adult is now hyper-vigilant about smells. Since that September 2014 leak, there have been three more incident where school staff became alarmed by some sudden aroma in the air. The board president tried to assure audience that none of these later incidents endangered their children, but the parents at the board meeting -- some of whom were wearing T-shirts with Cullen’s name in a circle with a slash -- weren’t satisfied.

In fact, the poisonous gas incident has turned into the tentpole under which complaints of all sorts have been gathered. For example, Debra Ochu, a special education teacher, has used it as a platform to bring attention to practices she suggests have illegal decreased special education services.
Parents who addressed the board said Cullen has retaliated against teachers for speaking up. Cullen said nothing, but appeared to be taking notes. Board members listened intently to Harmon read from a list of complaints for almost 15 minutes. The board accepted the petition and put it on their March 2 agenda, when it will be discussed in closed session.

After a long career in newspapers (Dallas Observer, The Dallas Morning News, Anchorage Daily News, Illinois Times), Dusty returned to school to get a master's degree in multimedia journalism. She began work as Education Desk reporter at NPR Illinois in September 2014.
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