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Parents go to mat over kids' tae kwon do class

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By Vicky Gits

A delegation of unhappy parents made an appearance at the June 18 meeting of the Evergreen Park and Recreation District board to protest what they said was unfair treatment of tae kwon do instructor Tom Spratt.

Spratt is a contract employee who has worked for the district for about 25 years. He usually teaches classes at both Wulf and Buchanan rec centers, but has withdrawn from the Buchanan site, saying his insurance won’t cover it because of physical changes made to the room.

“The board doesn’t have a position yet,” said Allan Casey, president of the board of directors of the district. “We referred it to (executive director) John (Skeel) to come back to us after he has explored the concerns and met with the instructor and the parents.”

Several parents at the meeting vouched for Spratt’s dedication and expertise, and others painted a picture of growing hostility between the teacher and park district officials.

In a petition to the board of directors, the parents outlined a list of grievances, mainly involving the district’s decision to convert the longtime tae kwon do space at Buchanan Rec Center into a multipurpose room.

They also objected to the 22.5 percent cost increase in a period of one year from $191 to $234 per child for a season.

One parent said a park district employee had tried to fire Spratt in front of her children during an argument about a canceled class.

The district set up a meeting among the contractor, parents and staff for June 26 so they could try to resolve their differences.

Among the six concerns listed in the petition are the following:

• Spratt’s equipment was removed from his room to a storage room at the Wulf Recreation Center. This does not provide ready access to suits, pads and items for sale, and forces him to leave children temporarily unattended in the room, when Spratt leaves to retrieve things.

• The board-breaking device was removed from the wall, meaning that the parents had to stand next to the wall and hold the device.

• For 25 years the instructor has posted the philosophy of tae kwon do in a permanent location, as well as pictures of students, tournament photos, awards, certificates and flags on the walls. The parents say these “important motivational” items should not be removed.

• The room at the Buchanan Rec Center has been remodeled so that it has sharp edges and tiled walls.

Skeel said the matter started out as a “personnel issue between the contractor and the staff of the district.”

“We have had a number of issues and tried to resolve them and have not been able to,” Skeel said.

He said problems arose over the district’s decision to remodel and make the Buchanan room a multipurpose room instead of limited to martial arts and aerobics.

“After the new carpet was installed and we painted the walls, more people wanted to use it. I think that’s the crux of the matter. Some parents are unhappy it’s multi-use.”

To compound matters, the instructor and a staff member got into an argument in front of the children after a class was canceled because management needed to clean the carpet.

Unfortunately, Spratt didn’t get the message on his answering machine and showed up anyway, which led to the public argument.

“I explained it was unacceptable to get into an argument in public,” Skeel said.

Since then Skeel has changed the organization so that Spratt doesn’t report to the same supervisor.

Spratt told the park district he won’t go back to the Buchanan Center because his insurance says the room is hazardous. “Our insurance has told us they don’t find the room unsafe,” Skeel said.

Rose Harris described Spratt as “the most compassionate, caring and considerate teacher,” that has ever taught her son. “He is the best teacher I have ever seen with little kids. What he teaches them is priceless.”

“This is a program that evolves over years, and the relationship with Mr. Spratt is very valuable,” said Christine Stump. “It’s been very traumatic for my family. The thing that concerns me most is the availability of Buchanan. It’s very convenient for us.”

Board member Peter Eggers said he would be willing to participate as a board member in negotiations to try to move the matter forward in a positive direction.

Meanwhile, Spratt is continuing his classes at Wulf Recreation Center only and refuses to teach at Buchanan.