District 49 plans to launch a legal investigation into the conduct of a board member after a reprimand was issued at Thursday’s meeting.
The board voted 3-2 to censure Ivy Liu for “engaged in intentional and repeated conduct that constitutes a failure to fulfill her fiduciary duties to the students, staff, parents, taxpayers and residents of the district.” , the resolution says. The resolution also calls for Liu’s immediate resignation.
“It’s just not supposed to work that way,” said Board Vice President Rick Van Wieren. “But the time has come.”
The board is developing a legal case “for possible criminal or civil charges” against Liu with an initial cost of $10,000 or less, to be funded from the district’s general budget. The expenses will be used to subpoena Liu’s personal and district-provided technology, collect testimonies from past and future employees, provide employees with whistleblower protection, and subpoena additional records such as Liu’s personal phone number, email, social media, and texts.
Attorney Brad Miller said he would support the search for an investigative agency to pursue the case against Liu. Miller serves as general counsel to the board of directors of the Miller Farmer law firm.
As elected officers, board members enjoy limited state immunity for acts they take on behalf of the district. This protection allows them to vote on controversial resolutions without fear of legal action.
The no-confidence resolution identified 11 suspected conduct that the board has determined misrepresents the district and therefore lacks legal protection.
“A reprimand that is very minimally described in laws and policies is simply an explanation,” Miller said. “There is no type of related actual sanction.”
Liu’s cited behaviors include mischaracterizing her opponents’ religious or political stances, maintaining false identities to post unsupported claims on social media, creating a negative image of the district, and verbally assaulting teachers and staff. Liu claims these allegations are defamatory and have no supporting evidence.
Troubles boiled over this month when Liu used a quote from Adolf Hitler to criticize social-emotional learning (SEL) in a Facebook post that she says was taken out of context. Her intention was to warn parents not to let history repeat itself, she said.
“‘He alone WHAT THE YOUTH BELONGS to wins the future.’ Adolf Hitler,” the post reads. “Fight the concepts of Critical Race Theory (CRT) that are deceptively hidden in many of CASEL.org’s latest Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs. Not all SELs are bad, but some are insidiously programmed to do exactly what our enemies intend.”
The reaction was quick and polarized.
Van Wieren sent Liu a private email asking him to step down on November 3, a week before he and CEO John Graham would publicly call for her resignation at Thursday’s school board meeting. Graham issued a public statement on November 4, saying that most board members found Liu’s post unacceptable and urged them to retract or clarify their comments.
Some, including district parent and teacher Sarah Temple, interpreted the statement as an attack on district educators. Temple teaches at D-49 Sand Creek High School.
“I would support your resignation as an indicator that you understand and learn that you cannot say from one side of your mouth you support the staff and applaud the teachers, but from the other side spread hateful comments about teachers, the students indoctrinate,” Temple said.
Others came to Liu’s defense.
Sabrina Balister, a taxpaying D-49 resident who has attended school board meetings for the past year and a half, said Liu has found opponents because of her outspoken nature and tendency to challenge others on difficult issues.
“I know her character personally, I know her background and I know her heart,” Balister said. “This post was totally taken out of context and ran along. … This is exploding for all the wrong reasons.”
Board member Jamilynn D’Avola co-voted with Liu against the criticism. She said Liu’s comment was a criticism of the indoctrination in the curriculum, not from the teachers.
District CEO Peter Hilts dismissed that justification, saying indoctrination requires human action.
“When I hear these allegations of indoctrination, brainwashing, manipulation and recruitment, they have to relate to one person,” Hilts said. “Curricula cannot indoctrinate without people.”
Liu denies any criticism of the teachers, describing the allegations as personally and emotionally challenging.
“I have great respect and appreciation for our hardworking and underpaid educators,” Liu said in a written statement to The Gazette. “But I hold the administration responsible for the management of the district and the school performance of the children.”
The school board consists of five elected officers and has no power to remove a member. That authority rests squarely with voters who elected Liu to a four-year term in 2021 with 64.5% of the vote. Grades are the primary form of board discipline.
Voters can also choose to remove an elected officer at any time in a complicated process known as recall. Such an effort requires a motion with support from 25% of the votes cast in the last election, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.