Yorkville school board investigated over meeting complaint

The Illinois Attorney General’s Office is investigating a complaint alleging the Yorkville School District 115 board violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act by discussing whether to remove a book from its curriculum in a closed session two months ago.

The complaint comes after four Yorkville school board members voted to remove the book “Just Mercy” from the curriculum of a Yorkville High School English class. A group of Yorkville students and parents blasted the board for its decision during its meeting on Sept. 25.


Across the U.S., conversations are happening on removing books as the Chicago-based American Library Association reports that attempts to ban books in the country nearly doubled in 2022 compared with the previous year.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois on Thursday condemned the Yorkville school board’s move to remove the book, saying inclusive curriculum is needed in the state’s schools.


Last spring, a parent of a student in the English II Rhetorical Analysis course at Yorkville High School complained of the use of “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson in the class. The book takes a look at America’s criminal justice system by focusing on two Black men wrongly convicted of murder who spent years on death row.

In May, the school board unanimously agreed to allow the book to remain as the “anchor text” for the class with a provision that an alternative text for the class be offered as well.

After a parent appealed the decision, the board changed its mind at its August meeting. In a 4-2 vote, board President Darren Crawford and board members Jason Demas, Mike Knoll and Mike Houston all voted to remove the book from the curriculum of the class.

According to minutes from the meeting, Houston and Knoll said the book is “too controversial” and asked that a different text be used in the class. The book was removed from the curriculum, but still available to interested students in the library, district officials said.

This week, Illinois Attorney General Public Access Bureau Deputy Chief Joshua Jones wrote that a complaint was filed alleging the board held improper discussions on the book issue during a closed session.

Jones wrote that the Public Access Bureau determined further action is warranted concerning the issue and asked for copies of the May and August school board meeting agendas, minutes for both the open and closed sessions of the meetings and a verbatim recording of the closed sessions.

School district officials said in a statement they are working with the Illinois attorney general and providing all necessary details and information. They said the investigation by the bureau was triggered by a request for review from a non-resident of the district.

“The district believes it has substantially complied with (the Open Meetings Act) and no findings to the contrary have been made by the Attorney General’s Office at this stage,” district officials said.


The Attorney General’s Office also asked for a detailed, written answer to the allegation that the board improperly discussed the removal of a book from its curriculum during a closed session. The school board has seven business days to reply to the letter.

Parent Mike Curtis said his oldest son, a senior at Yorkville High School, read the book two years ago and said he and his friends still discuss it.

“My son is a mix of disappointed and angry,” Curtis said concerning the board’s decision to remove the book from the curriculum of the class. “He isn’t an avid reader and loves his art classes and his guitar over his English essays, but that book resonated with him.”

Curtis said he was a teacher for 18 years and that while the school has said the book isn’t banned because students can still read it from the library, that is a much different experience than reading it in a large group with a teacher guiding discussions.

“Hearing different students’ points of view is important,” Curtis said. “My son is a white male and to hear the thoughts from students whose parents are immigrants, or someone who is African American or an ESL student is important. This takes away the ability for people to connect over something they feel passionately about, which is what makes us human.”

ACLU of Illinois Director of Public Policy Ed Yohnka said it is not lost on him that this discussion comes during the national Banned Books Week.


“We think of banning books and curriculum as something happening in other states, but I think what we’ve seen in Yorkville is just a part of this national attempt to curb reading materials based on politics without any concern for the advancement of students and experiences of the teachers,” he said.

Before the book was selected for use in the class at Yorkville High School, it was vetted by a group of teachers who thought it would support their unit of study and learning standards, according to school board meeting minutes. The assistant superintendent of teaching and learning also approved the text.

Attempts to reach school board members for comment on the issue were unsuccessful.


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