Race becomes an unexpected issue during Monday's Peoria District 150 school board meeting.
Activist Sharon Crews first broached the topic while reading from a prepared statement during the public comment portion of the meeting. She had intended to criticize the busing of students and a reading program instituted in the district that she described as "watered down."
Crews talked about how she requested her first teaching assignment be at then-Roosevelt Junior High in south Peoria.
"For seven years those young people taught me to see the world through their black eyes," Crews said.
Crews also appeared to direct her comments toward Superintendent Grenita Lathan.
"It is best for District 150 children, both black and white, to have a superintendent with the least racial baggage," Crews said. "Someone who can teach young people not to think of themselves as victims."
The reading program Crews spoke of is one of the issues supporters of former Charter Oak principal John Wetterauer say was part of a "vendetta" Lathan had against him. Wetterauer was placed on paid administrave leave and later reassigned because of ISAT testing irregularities at his school. Wetterauer has since resigned from the district.
"My question is," says Crews, "how many inner city schools are using below standard reading programs and why? Below standard expectations seem to be typical of some 150 schools."
Board members, including Laura Petelle, interrupted Crews saying the comments were racially insenitive and inappropriate.
Crews later apologized saying she did not intend for her comments to be interpreted that way, although she did say she knew she "was going to tread."
Still, Crews' comments struck a nerve with Lathan.
"I am tired of people dancing around issues," Lathan said. "We have 14,000 students in our district and all 14,000 count, I don't care what they look like."
"I extended the olive branch about two months ago," explained Lathan. "I said 'Let the healing begin, We need to bring closure and move forward.' Some of you don't want to move forward. You continually come up and say disrespectful things, but let it be known we're moving forward in this district."
Lathan gave examples of high expectations of students such as AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), the increased number of advance placement offerings in all three high schools and 150's International Baccalaureate program. Lathan says the district "strategically placed (IB) across the entire district."
As for the so-called "watered down" reading program, Lathan said, "We do not have a watered down reading program. The problem is we're teaching all children to read and we are giving all children access to a quality education. I think that scares people, but, I'm all for it."