On a Friday morning nearly two weeks ago, 78-year-old Rita Cunat was riding the stationary bike in her bedroom when her telephone rang. 708-442-7500, Riverside Brookfield High School, flashed on her caller ID.
That’s funny, Cunat thought. Her son graduated from RB more than 30 years ago and two of her granddaughters are recent graduates, but she had no one at the school now.
“I thought my granddaughters are gone from there, why are they calling me?” Cunat said.
She soon found out.
Cunat had in the past said wonderful things about the RB students who have come out to her home help her out on RB’s annual Day of Service. She was very thankful for their help doing chores she can no longer do on her own.
It was a woman who called from RB, but Cunat doesn’t remember her name.
The woman began the conversation by mentioning the Day of Service, but then had a request.
“She said, ‘We know that you think the world of the kids coming on the Day of Service,'” Cunat recalled. “She said, ‘We would like you to come in next week and, you know, we’ll tape you talking about that, and then we’ll use it for the referendum.'”
She understood the request as asking her to tape an RBTV spot that would be used to promote a yes vote on the April 5 tax referendum for RB.
There was just one problem.
“I said to her that’s really good, but I’m not for the referendum,” Cunat said. “I was just stunned when she said that.”
The call was placed by a RB teacher working under RB Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction Tim Scanlon. Both Scanlon and District 208 Interim Superintendent David Bonnette confirmed last week that the call was made by a faculty member, but neither Scanlon nor Bonnette would say who made the call.
Bonnette also said that he didn’t know anything about the telephone call until he was told about it by the Landmark a week ago.
State law, specifically the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act, makes it illegal to engage in “prohibited political activities” during school hours.
Scanlon said that Cunat got the purpose of the telephone call wrong.
“That was misinterpreted,” Scanlon said. “We were putting together, and you’ll see them on RBTV, a series of positive things about the school for informational purposes.”
Scanlon insisted that the call had nothing to do with the upcoming referendum.
“She had written such nice things we wondered if she would say that in a sound bite so we could get it on our Focus on RB segments,” Scanlon said. “There was nothing about a yes vote, it was about information. The teacher that did it for me was one of my interns, and it had to do with information and RB and not anything to do with the election.”
But that’s not the way Cunat remembers it. She is sure that the referendum was brought up during the brief telephone call.
“I wouldn’t have responded in that way if she hadn’t indicated it was about the referendum,” Cunat said.