Wes Smithing

Riverside-Brookfield District 208 Board of Education President Wes Smithing apologized last week for aggressively questioning music teacher and band director James Baum at the Nov. 10 school board meeting. 

After Baum made a statement during the public comment portion of the meeting praising the work of the fine arts community at the school, Smithing and fellow board members Laura Hruska and Ramona Towner peppered Baum with questions about returning to in-person instruction. 

Normally board members do not respond to people making public comment at a school board meeting.

At the Dec. 8 school board meeting, Smithing inserted an apology into his routine reading of the standard guidelines for public comment. 

“I want to stop for a second and say that I have personally engaged citizens in the past at this juncture,” said Smithing. “In retrospect, I believe that may have created an environment that intimidated the very citizens that we encourage to participate. It was never my intention to intimidate or discourage participation. For this, I apologize. Lesson’s learned. This is the time and venue for a transparent government, in this case the business of the school district.”

In a public comment to the school board, junior Claire Harrison, a member of the RBHS band, criticized the board and some members of the community for the way they have been talking about teachers.

“The treatment of the teachers by the board and the overall community is, in my opinion, unacceptable,” Harrison said. “Teachers absolutely deserve a learning curve this year. No one in history has taught or learned liked this, so expecting perfection and efficiency immediately is unfair to everyone involved. 

“Every single one of my teachers is doing everything in their power to make these difficult times easier and I, a successful student in the remote setting, am a reflection of their efforts.”