It should serve as no surprise that school district superintendents are not somehow universally amazing people. Like any population, there will be good ones and bad ones. All of that being said, it seems that the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly good at highlighting just how bad at the job, not to mention at public relations, some superintendents can be. The most useful example of this came from Georgia, where a school district suspended, then un-suspended, students for posting pictures of just how badly their schools were failing at managing bringing students back during the pandemic.
But a more recent example comes to us from — checks notes — huh, my hometown of Elmhurst, Illinois. Dave Moyer, the superintendent for the Elmhurst public schools, kicked up a local shit-storm for himself a couple of weeks ago when he decided to have an exchange with a revered teacher in his district over the use of masks by teachers.
Last week, District 205 technology teacher Jennifer Leban tweeted, “Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I feel like parents would much rather have teachers talking to students via Zoom WITHOUT masks on instead of WITH… Seems like an obvious choice?”
Moyer responded, “Then take your mask off.”
But Leban, a 2020 Illinois Teacher of the Year finalist, said she does not have her own room, so state regulations bar her from taking off her mask.
For context, while new case counts have been dropping across much of the country, the same is not true for the Midwest. Here in Illinois specifically, new cases have been on the rise since July, including a breathtaking day mere weeks after Moyer’s suggestion that a teacher remove her mask where the state saw nearly six thousand new cases get reported. Leban, by the way, is immunocompromised, making Moyer’s suggestion that she simply remove her mask all the more idiotic. She presented the district with a doctor’s note that recommended she get a remote placement, for which there are some slots in the district, but that request was denied without explanation.
Others, of course, saw the Twitter exchange as well.
In the Twitter discussion, Kim Gwizdala, an English teacher from Glenbard West High School, said it was “absolutely wild to me that your own superintendent would suggest a thing when it is in direct violation with health guidelines and science.”
Moyer took exception to that comment.
“Excuse me. The attorneys have indicated that the interpretation from the State is as follows: Teachers can take their mask off when they are in their rooms by themselves facilitating remote learning. Get your facts straight before you pontificate.”
To Leban, he wrote, “Your entire media center isn’t good enough? OK then.”
Shortly after that, for reasons that should be obvious, Moyer deleted several of those tweets. No public apology came, however. Also, as parents began jumping into the conversation, Moyer chose to block them on Twitter, even though his account is that of the school district’s website, not a personal account. It’s worth noting here that the courts recently ruled that Donald Trump, as a public official, could not block the public from his official account because his control over the account and his status as a public official made that specific space a public forum. Why Moyer’s account, tied to the district’s website, should be any different is anyone’s guess.
In a Twitter discussion last week about an Elmhurst teacher’s position on masks, Alicia Duell, the director of technology and information services at Wheeling School District 21, said Moyer blocked her from his Twitter account. An Elmhurst resident, Duell noted Moyer was the superintendent of her children’s school district.
Meanwhile, an Elmhurst resident emailed Patch over the weekend that she, too, had been banned from the superintendent’s account.
Which brings us to the present, where the public has taken notice of Moyer’s behavior at a recent board meeting and is voicing their complaints.
Last Monday, a number of written comments were read during the public comment portion of the meeting, including those critical of Moyer. Eileen Espinosa, a local resident who once served on a school council in Chicago, said she has “extended grace” to Moyer during the pandemic, but could no longer remain silent.
“His utter lack of leadership is overwhelming and you’re ignoring it is no longer acceptable,” Espinosa said to the board in her comments. “Dr. Moyer’s inability to send communications that help the community to come together in the spring and throughout the summer and into the school year are a repeated reminder that he does not lead our district. He continues to air his grievances and personal opinions on social media.”
There are more, as well. The ultimate lesson here is in just how badly Moyer handled this at every step. One-liners to immunocompromised teachers advising them to take of their masks against both state regulations and common sense is an obvious misstep. Doubling down with sarcasm and snark when called on it, all the more so. Deleting those tweets and thinking this would all go away, rather than simply apologizing, put this on the tee at the Streisand National Open. Going on a parent-Twitter-blocking spree to try to stifle dissent hit the ball right in the middle of the fairway. And the refusal to publicly comment to date on the matter made the Streisand crowd go wild.
When asked for comment about his deleted tweets late last month, Moyer did not directly answer. In an email, he said his public messages should be interpreted as seeking “a balance between safety for all and creating the healthiest learning environment for students. It is time for all of us to move beyond the negativity and keep the focus where it belongs.”
Right now the focus may just be on whether Moyer is the best person to be leading a school district during a pandemic in a state that is suffering under a surge of the virus.