Byline: Robert C. Herguth Daily Herald Staff Writer
Meetings held by the Arlington Heights Park District board rarely attract more than a citizen or two, and many local residents probably aren't even aware of the panel's functions.
But the five-member body has a rather large voice in the quality of life of citizens, whose parks, swimming pools and recreation programs are often affected by the elected board.
Five residents want to be on the park board, and are vying for three seats in the April 1 election.
Those running for the four-year terms are park board President Jim Radlein, park Commissioner Sandy Fernstrom, and challengers Rob Smith, Mark McBride and Tom Drake.
Commissioner Sharon Romack is not seeking re-election.
Q: Do you think children in the park district programs should have more "exposure" to religious holidays, as was suggested recently by a group of parents?
Radlein: A public body must base these kinds of decisions on the guidance and interpretations handed down by our court system. The issue goes beyond park programs. Regardless of my personal feelings, as an elected commissioner my greater responsibility is to my stewardship.
Fernstrom: If children are "exposed" to religious holidays through our park programs, this exposure should consist of what the involved parents agreed to - the cooking and sharing of ethnic foods, toys or games, accompanied by the folklore or history connected to them. By doing this, it gives them the chance to experience and share in something they generally wouldn't have a chance to within their home environment. Hopefully, this exposure will engender questions that can be answered by the children's parents after the preschool program ends that day.
The role of the park district is to provide open space, facilities and programs aimed at providing opportunities for the enjoyment of recreation programs, leisure time activities and improved quality of life for its constituents. The district does not purport to be an educational institution that operates with certified teachers of required curricula. Our staff are certified recreation specialists who are dedicated to the objectives of the district. It is not within the scope of their duties to conduct religious classes or state-mandated educational programs. I would not like to see park district programs develop into stressful or harmful emotional experiences for any participants. Instead, programs should remain oriented to their desired recreational and leisure-oriented purposes.
Smith: I believe all children and adults should be exposed to different cultures and traditions.
McBride: I wholeheartedly agree with the parent group that children in (the) park district should be exposed to religious holidays. ... I am tired of all the political correctness that exists in our society today, and would like to emphasize education of the various religions. This is NOT meant to be an endorsement of any religion, but it can be done in an educational fashion, much as was the case at Westgate School this past holiday season. In this case, speakers were brought in to the classes to discuss their respective religious practices and ceremonies. I feel the park district should do the same.
Drake: The park district should be sensitive to program scheduling as it relates to religious holidays and should continue to listen to suggestions made by parents on this and all topics. However, specific exposure to religion via park programs in my view creates a difficult precedent once it is established. There is more than enough opportunity in our community for religious exposure through churches and their respective organizations and programs. The park district should be focused on issues and activities which are non-denominational. In my view, the handling of North School Park's seasonal decorations over the November/December holiday period was a fair and good solution for all. …