Park Ridge-Niles District 64 appoints new board member who made comment against masks

The Park Ridge-Niles Community Consolidated School District 64 Board of Education has appointed Demetri Touzios, who has in the past advocated against masking rules in district schools, as a board member to succeed Nicole Woitowich, who resigned in January. The board selected Touzios out of 12 candidates in a unanimous vote, according to a district statement.

Touzios, the parent of a second grader at Washington School, will finish out a term that lasts until 2025. He owns a painting business and grew up in Niles, he said. A little over one year ago, he submitted a public comment to the board urging them to drop mask-wearing requirements.

Asked why he wanted to be on the board, he responded, “to be part of something a little bit bigger than yourself.”

“The board is basically the foundation of the community,” he said.

Asked what strengths he could bring to the Board of Education, Touzios said his work as a baseball and flag football coach and as a business owner had given him practice at “being able to take different personalities and mesh them together.”

“You’re not going to agree on everything all the time, but as long as you have a common goal, you can work with one another; anything can get done,” he said.

Touzios has had previous interaction with the Board of Education, having submitted a public comment in an email in January 2022, when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported the seven-day average of COVID cases at 744,616. The CDC noted the omicron variant was driving numbers up at that time.

“[The mask mandate] is jeopardizing our kids (sic) ability to learn and is causing more harm than good,” he wrote. “I know some parents want stronger mandates but we can not put our children’s future and well being on the back burner just because a minority of parents are scared of everything.”

Touzios told Pioneer Press he was “just ready for it to be done,” referring to the mask mandate in schools.

Touzios has a past arrest record dating to when he was in his late 20s.

He was found guilty of possession of drug paraphernalia in 2008, and of driving under the influence in 2000, according to records reviewed by Pioneer Press.

Touzios told Pioneer Press he has changed as a person since those convictions occurred.

“I’m definitely not the same person at 41 that I was in my 20s,” he said. “I’m not even the same person today that I was in my 30s. I try to get better and I try to grow all the time.”

“One of the reasons I like doing what I do is because you can always get better; you can always improve,” he said.

Touzios was fined a total of $1,025 in 2008 and sentenced to a total of 16 months of probation in 2008, and was fined $335 for the earlier conviction, court records show.

Asked this week how he would balance the needs of parents, students, staff and administrators, Touzios said the board’s job was to ensure a good foundation for administrators and faculty.

“If those two aspects are strong then students and parents will be happy, and they’re going to be the ones that are best served, if everyone on top of them is doing the right thing,” he said. “You have strong teachers, that benefits your kids more than anything else.”

He is set to be sworn into office March 16, at the next regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting.

The board interviewed 11 other applicants for the position: Mark Anderson, Julia Baraglia, Amy Caffero-Tolemy, Jennifer Conlon, Joseph Ignoffo, Linnea Johnson, George Kouros, Gloria Kuechenberg, Kurt A. Kuempel, Joseph Lee and Anita Rifkind.