Despite Public Outrage, School Board Votes to Dismiss Teacher Without Pay
Parents, family and community members voiced their concerns about the handling of David Wartik's case.
More than eight hours after its scheduled start, the District 36 Board voted unanimously to dismiss fourth-grade teacher David Wartik from employment and to suspend him without pay.
The verdict was met with boos from some in the crowd, which included several dozen who spent their days at The Skokie School in support of Wartik while the board met in executive session.
The tenured teacher at Hubbard Woods School had been put on leave due to concerns about an Evanston police investigation into a possible incident that happened in the late 1990s at a private North Shore school.
"Today we are faced with very bad choices," said Winnetka Public Schools Board President Dana Crumley, who emphasized that the board recognized Wartik as one of the district's best teachers.
Crumley said that the board's decision did not relate to the police investigation itself, but rather Wartik's "purposeful obstruction of investigation,"* though offered no further details.
After the meeting, Wartik hugged supporters in the lobby and his attorney, Glenn Seiden, told parents that the board had taken offense to earlier actions of Wartik when they attempted to investigate the matter. Wartik said that at the time he had been following the advice of a former attorney.
"The board is taking an action against a beloved teacher who is a contributing member of the community," said Seiden. "David will follow this matter through to prove that their action is unwarranted and to regain his reputation."
During the first public comment session at 9 a.m., a variety of community members spoke, about 15 people total, ranging from Winnetka Congregational Church's Sr. Minister Joseph Shank to a former student and current West Point cadet, who recalled when Wartik made chocolate chip cookies for his sports team.
While waiting out the closed-door executive session, which began about 10 a.m. and ended about 4 p.m., supporters filtered in and out of the front portico of The Skokie School with water, soda, peanut butter sandwiches, frozen yogurt, granola bars and popcorn to share with other supporters.
As time inched closer and closer to public school's closing bell, mothers called friends and children to rearrange children's rides from school so they could continue to wait.
In the second public comment session at about 4 p.m., eight people spoke total, including Wartik. As in the earlier session, parents, colleagues and one District 36 graduate spoke about their admiration for Wartik and their distaste for the district's handling of the matter, some claiming that the process moved too fast and without the public's full knowledge.
In his only public comment, Wartik said, "I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to the people who support me; it means a great deal to me in this trying time." He also asked the board to keep supporters' stories in mind when making a decision about his tenure.
One Winnetka parent, Julie Melulis, talked about Wartik's lasting impression on her daughter. "In science class my daughter learned about litmus tests, and she told me, 'Mr. Wartik is the litmus test against which I'll measure all of my teachers.'"
After a second closed session meeting, the board returned and voted to dismiss the teacher, who taught within the district for 12 years.
Shank, the senior minister who spoke in the first public comment session, said he was deeply disappointed in the board's decision.
"It seems to move the community into an adversarial position," said Shank, who has worked in Winnetka for two decades. "My hope was that the best avenue would have been to turn the volume down, slow the pace and reconsider the situation."
School officials and administrators declined to comment. Wartik referred Patch's request for an interview to his attorney, Glenn Seiden.
*March 14 11:45 p.m. Clarification: The investigation mentioned in the phrase, "purposeful obstruction of investigation," refers to the district's investigation.