Last week was one of the more emotional ones in recent history at Riverside- Brookfield High School.
On March 14, the District 208 Board of Education voted unanimously not to renew the teaching contract of popular social studies teacher Jill Musil, denying her tenure and effectively ending her teaching career at RBHS at the end of the current school year.
The school board, following the recommendation of Superintendent Kevin Skinkis and Principal Kristin Smetana, stated Musil had not acted professionally in dealings with administrators, community members, and students.
Board members and administrators have not provided any details of unprofessional conduct, but has told student supporters of Musil that the teacher brought politics into the classroom.
Musil is a particular favorite of many students, particularly activist students, who have been vocal in support of her at recent school board meetings. On March 15, the day after the board’s decision not to renew Musil’s contract, more than 100 students staged a three-hour sit in the entrance atrium of the school near the main office to protest the decision.
Now school officials say they are investigating a complaint from a parent that last week, after the board voted not to rehire her, Musil referred to RBHS Principal Kristin Smetana in a derogatory way in class.
A student in one of Musil’s classes told the Landmark that Musil referred to Smetana inappropriately in class on March 16.
“I was just shocked that she was calling the principal of the school an inappropriate name,” said the student, who asked to remain anonymous.
Smetana said Monday that the school did receive a call from a parent on Friday saying that Musil called Smetana the derogatory name.
“We are looking into that,” Smetana said.
When asked if she called Smetana the name in class, Musil initially denied it but later said she might have used the word in the context of talking about a student swearing at the sit in and the importance of treating everyone with respect.
“I heard that someone during the sit in called her that, and I did address that in one of my classes and say that that’s not appropriate and we shouldn’t be using those names for anyone,” Musil said. “I did address the fact that somebody at the sit-in called her that to her face.”
The student who spoke to the Landmark said that she did not hear Musil use the derogatory term in that context, and said that she didn’t know that a student had been suspended.
Smetana acknowledged that a student was suspended for swearing during the sit-in, but said that no one called her a name to her face.
One of the administration’s and school board’s big concerns about Musil was that she allegedly brought her political views into the classroom.
While Musil’s supporters say that she treats all students fairly and presents all sides of issues, another student who has taken classes from Musil said she does at times let her political views influence her teaching.
“I would say that her teaching method is, at times, more opinion than fact,” said the student who asked not to be identified because of the peer pressure among students to support Musil.
The student, now a senior, said that in a class her freshman year Musil made her position on abortion clear.
“She was advocating for abortion,” the student said.
The student, who was in a Musil class last semester, said the teacher was distraught in class on the day after the presidential election.
“She was kind of acting like she was going to be sick over the whole thing,” the student said.
Musil told the Landmark that she was just letting students talk about the election.
“I believe I was not happy, but I didn’t make it known it was directly connected to the election,” Musil said. “I didn’t voice my political opinion on that.
“I just said I respect our presidential process and our democracy, but I am disheartened that someone who has said some very hurtful things about various groups of people was kind of forgiven on those and still elected. I didn’t actually address that in class unless students asked me or wanted to talk about it. I really just let them talk about the election and I didn’t give my viewpoint.”
Musil says that she presents all sides of issues to students in her classes and challenges students to think for themselves.
“I’m constantly challenging their thoughts to make them think critically and really be able to back up their claims with evidence and not just depending on their opinion,” Musil said.
Musil says that the administration’s attitude toward her abruptly changed after students rose in protest during a speech Musil made about tolerance and accepting diversity during an assembly in November. Musil and students say that the administration believes Musil had something to do with the demonstration, which both the student organizers of the protest and Musil deny. Musil says that until last month she had always received good evaluations from administrators.
When interviewed by the Landmark, Musil declined to say whether she had hired a lawyer or planned to sue the school board over their decision.
However, in a letter to the editor sent to the Landmark on Monday, Musil’s husband, Ryan, asked the school board to call a special meeting in order to vote to renew Musil’s contract and grant her tenure, implying that if they did not there could be a lawsuit.
“Do this and we’ll play nice,” Ryan Musil wrote. “Let’s try to resolve this peacefully, without lawyers, and bring a happy ending to this story for all involved.”