On Tuesday night, March 14, after meeting for about 50 minutes in closed session, the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 Board of Education, following the recommendation of Principal Kristin Smetana and Superintendent Kevin Skinkis, voted 7 to 0 to not rehire social studies teacher Jill Musil next year.
The vote denies Musil tenure and ends her career at RBHS, effective at the end of the current school year. Musil is also a Special Olympics coach at the school.
Prior to the vote, the board heard from 10 Musil supporters, including five students, three alumni and two parents of Special Olympians.
At a school board meeting two weeks ago, 14 people spoke in support of Musil. Every statement made was in support.
The board also heard from Musil herself Tuesday night. And on Wednesday starting at about 12:15 p.m., students crowded the atrium near the main entrance of the school, staging a sit in and rising individually to make speeches on Musil’s behalf. The sit-in was still going strong at 2:15 p.m., under the eye of administrators and police.
A Landmark photographer was prevented from entering the atrium by a school staff member. The sit-in however was broadcast on Facebook Live by a student.
“I don’t understand how I have gone from a respected teacher to being non-renewed in three months’ time,” Musil told school board members on Tuesday night prior to the vote declining to rehire her.
Musil has taught at RBHS since 2012. The teacher spoke to the school board for nearly 10 minutes and gave an impassioned defense of her performance as a teacher. After she spoke the crowd of about 40 people gave her a standing ovation.
The board voted to dismiss Musil at the end of the school year citing a lack of professionalism.
“The reasons for your dismissal are that you have not demonstrated professionalism when meeting, discussing, or presenting with school administrators, community members, and students,” said the resolution passed by the board.
By law, a school district must give a fourth-year teacher a reason for not rehiring.
Watching the board vote to dismiss Musil were a handful of students. After the vote, the students left the small conference room, one of them slamming the door on her way out.
Board members and administrators weren’t saying much after the meeting.
“Our statement is basically the resolution that was read,” Skinkis said.
Smetana declined to comment as she left the building accompanied by the school’s business manager.
“We reviewed the facts and the information,” said board Vice President Matt Sinde.
School board members were asked whether Musil’s argument with Assistant Principal Dave Mannon in November, when Musil told Mannon it was not right for him to order the removal of sticky notes saying “Black Lives Matter” from some students’ lockers, was a factor in their decision.
“Does that sound unprofessional to you?” asked board member Tim Walsh.
Musil said that she disappointed by the board’s decision not to rehire her.
“Though I am disappointed in the decision of the school board, I remain dedicated to my students and classes for the remainder of my time at RBHS,” Musil said in an email. “I am truly befuddled by their unanimous decision to vote against the will of the parents, students, alumni, and community members who spoke out and gave evidence in my favor.”
According to multiple people with knowledge of the situation, some students and parents complained about comments made by Musil about Donald Trump. Administrators and board members were also apparently concerned that Musil talked about birth control with students.
In her statement to the board, Musil said all her problems started after Nov. 16, when racist graffiti was discovered in a second floor girls’ bathroom. Before that time, Musil said, she had received excellent evaluations throughout her time at RBHS.
She said her problems began after a student protest in reaction to the graffiti, which began when students held up signs during a speech Musil gave during a Positivity Day Assembly on Nov. 22.
“I thought that the demonstration during my speech was beautiful and powerful, but I had no hand in planning it,” Musil told the school board on Tuesday. “Since this demonstration, though, I have seen a marked change in the way the administration has viewed me and my teaching environment.
Musil denied being a troublemaker.
“I am in no way a rabble rouser,” Musil said. “I have never encouraged students to protest or demonstrate against this administration or board. I have always taught them though to stand up for what they believe in and to find what they believe is right.”
Musil said that on Nov. 16 a student came to her to report the racist graffiti in the bathroom. Musil said that she put up a sign over the graffiti that said, “This bathroom is for everyone. If you have a problem please come see me in room 240. Have a nice day.”
Musil said that her sign was taken down afterward, leaving the graffiti exposed.
In a Dec. 1 meeting with Smetana and Mannon, Musil, accompanied by Riverside Brookfield Education Association President John Fields, said she was told that she had made the situation worse by displaying her sign and not immediately reporting the graffiti to the school administration.
“For defending myself I was called confrontational and argumentative,” Musil said. “This is part of the charge of unprofessionalism.”
Musil said that on Nov. 16 a custodian said that she had painted over similar graffiti four times. Smetana said in an email that she is aware of only one report of racist graffiti at RBHS this year.
On Feb. 21 Musil said that she was called into a meeting with Skinkis. She says that she was given the choice to resign or not be renewed.
“I had the rug pulled out from under me and given a week to decide: resign or have non-renewal on my permanent record,” Musil said. “In previous years other teachers were warned that they were be non-renewed and were given time to improve upon their deficits.”
Musil that her most recent evaluation this year rated her as “needs improvement” in “professionalism” and “creates an environment of respect and rapport.” She said that union grievances have been filed challenging those ratings.
She said that until this year she had never received a rating of less than “excellent” in those categories.
Students who spoke at the school board meetings described Musil as caring, passionate teacher who made all students feel comfortable and had a special talent for reaching students who normally don’t like school.
And Musil, in her statement to the board, talked about her ability to reach difficult students.
“I get students who hate school to sit up and pay attention because they’re finally interested in something and feel comfortable expressing themselves in my room,” Musil told the school board. “I can get a kid who acts out for every other teacher to pass his first history class. I can de-escalate a situation in the classroom with humor and I can’t tell you one, not even one, student that I have not been able to get along with.”
She said that she strives to get to know every one of her students.
“I know their hopes, their dreams, their anxieties, their depression that they’re trying to hide,” Musil said “I know who feels comfortable talking in class and who would rather tell me the answer on paper. I know who is having trouble at home and would prefer not to talk about it and who would need an extra piece of candy to wake up in the morning. I know the girl who doesn’t have the necessary money to get home on the bus and I subtly find a way to get it to her without embarrassing her in front of her classmates.”
In her statement to board before the vote, RBHS junior Casey Whisler said that the board’s decision would tell students a lot about the board.
“The decision today will show the student body one of two things,” Whisler said. “It will show either that you all listen to us and that you care about us as students and our needs as students and the teachers who are going to respect those needs or you don’t.”