Safaa Zarzour

Safaa Zarzour

SD229 names former board to replace Cruz 

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By Bob Bong 

Oak Lawn High School District 229 board members opted for a familiar face to replace ousted school board member Rob Cruz.

Former board member Safaa Zarzour, 58, was named last week to fill Cruz’s term. Cruz was removed from the board by a 6-1 vote at a special board meeting on January 12.

Cruz had defeated Zarzour in the April 2021 school board election by a vote of 1,243 to 690. Zarzour had first been elected to the school board in April 2017.

Cruz was removed from office for allegedly violating his oath of office, school board policy and state statutes.

The school board moved to replace him despite threats from Cruz that he would sue the board if they did not reinstate him to the school board by the end of February. He claims his removal was illegal.

Cruz, a property developer, was removed in part for filing lawsuits last fall against Gov. JB Pritzker, state Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala and District 229 itself, aimed at ending the governor’s mask mandates for schools.

He withdrew the first lawsuit against the state officials because he filed it as a member of the school board. But he filed a second one, with co-plaintiff Scott Jones, and named the district itself as a defendant, which cost the district $25,000 in legal fees. A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit in December, saying that in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the mask mandate did not violate their “fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody, education and control of their children.”

Ironically, a downstate judge has issued a temporary restraining order declaring the governor’s mandate illegal and school districts throughout the state have been moving to optional masking orders including District 229.

District 229 board members could have petitioned the state superintendent of education to remove Cruz, or just censured him.

Cruz, who said he was facing “unfair charges,” claimed he only filed suit because the mask mandates were having a detrimental effect on students. But he was accused of using them to advance his candidacy in the June 28 Republican primary for the newly redrawn 6th Congressional District.

As District 229 attorney Burt Odelson laid out the case against Cruz, he pointed out that the alleged violations did not involve mask mandates, Gov. Pritzker or his political views in general.

“You are charged as a board member for failing to perform your official duties when you violated your oath of office multiple times, and other statutory violations,” said Odelson, who was heckled throughout the proceedings by Scott Jones, Cruz’s co-plaintiff, sitting in the front row.

The attorney said Cruz also committed official misconduct under state statutes.

Zarzour, of Bridgeview, is an attorney with a law practice in Summit. He also serves as superintendent of Universal School, a private Muslim school in Bridgeview.

He came to the United States from his native Syria as a college student in 1993 and stayed. He has lived in the Bridgeview area for more than 30 years.

“When I saw there was a vacancy, I applied for the position,” he said Monday. “I enjoyed being on the board and thought I could bring something good to the board.”

District 229 operates Oak Lawn Community High School and takes in students from Bridgeview, Chicago Ridge, Oak Lawn, and Hometown.

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