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Jerry James, Unit 5

Jerry James, political action chairman for the local chapter of the NAACP, addresses the McLean County Unit 5 school board Wednesday, April 10, 2019, at Normal Community West High School following harassment allegations against James Harden, former director of human resources and student services.

NORMAL — The recent resignation of McLean County Unit 5's human resources director drew a crowd and three people signed up to speak at Wednesday's school board meeting.

The board voted unanimously in March to approve a resignation agreement for James Harden, former director of human resources and student services. The agreement was listed among several personnel changes.

Since then, allegations of harassment have come to light in connection with the resignation. While members of the public criticized how the district handled the matter or asked for clarification, board members and district officials did not comment Wednesday night.

“I think Unit 5 has a long history of not knowing how to address bullying and harassment," Jodie Slothower, who identified herself as a parent of a student who had been bullied, told the board. 

"This is evident to me since clearly your most recent director in charge of human resources, according to material that was available through FOIA, was harassing and bullying people for about two years," she said. "Unit 5 was aware of this behavior but did not fire him for two years. 

“How can a superintendent or the school board ask students, teachers and staff, how can you ask anyone not to harass anyone, not to bully anyone if you, all of you, cannot stand up against a person who behaves this way?”

The allegations, which district officials have not commented on, include reported statements involving race and sexual situations.

“There were so many different rumors going about and some of the allegations seem so absolutely ridiculous. We just need to get the information out,” said Jerry James, political action chairman of the local NAACP chapter, after he spoke to the board. 

When asked for more information about Harden’s resignation last week, Superintendent Mark Daniel declined to comment, stating only, “It is a personnel issue.”

Speaking first during public comments, Melinda White defended Harden.

“Every charge against Dr. Harden was an all-out lie which led to a false conclusion,” she said.

She spoke highly of his character, calling any claims to the contrary “vicious lies and rumors.”

After the public comment period in the meeting at Normal Community West High School, the board voted to approve bids for three building operations projects.

Henson Robinson Co. was chosen to replace two boilers and two rooftop units, which control heating and cooling, and to cut and remove 16 feet of driveway and sidewalk on the west side of Kingsley Junior High School. The project is estimated to cost $384,827.

TCI Companies Inc. was selected to install a geothermal borefield at Kingsley for $419,000 as part of the district’s energy efficiency projects.

H.J. Eppel & Co. Inc. secured the bid for the Parkside Junior High School resurfacing project in which three areas will be repaved. This contractor was the low bidder at $194,980.

Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.

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