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ISD 696 looks at changes to open forum

School board chair cites deliberate efforts to damage staff reputations

Keith Vandervort
Posted 10/27/21

ELY – In response to recent ISD 696 school board meetings where some audience members verbally attacked some school district employees, the board is considering updating their open forum policy …

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ISD 696 looks at changes to open forum

School board chair cites deliberate efforts to damage staff reputations

Posted

ELY – In response to recent ISD 696 school board meetings where some audience members verbally attacked some school district employees, the board is considering updating their open forum policy to try to tone down the vitriol.
The Ely school board chair presented an updated open forum policy at a study session Monday night for members to consider.
“I would have to say that I was very disappointed with our last two open forums,” said Ray Marsnik. “I believe there was a deliberate and sustained effort by some speakers to damage the reputation and credibility of some of our staff.”
As chairman, Marsnik publicly apologized to those people who were attacked.
“As the chair I probably could have stopped a lot of that, but I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t everybody. There were a lot of good comments at those forums. As a board, we must continue to encourage the public to engage in correspondence.”
He continued, “We can’t tolerate that kind of behavior by some people at the last couple of sessions. The people who were attacked deserve better than that.”
Marsnik noted that open forums are not required to be held by the school board under Minnesota open meetings laws.
“We have to make space available for the public to attend our meetings and we must advertise those meetings in advance,” he said.
He asserted that he was not suggesting to cut out open forums.
“I think they can be very valuable,” he said. “There is a Minnesota statute that deals with disorderly conduct at a public meeting.”
Recent Ely school board meetings are not the only instances where elected officials and/or district employees are coming under attack.
“It must be happening elsewhere in the state because MSBA (Minnesota School Board Association) came out with guidance on dealing with these things,” Marsnik said.
In consultation with the ISD 696 legal counsel, Marsnik developed an open forum request form.
“I would like to see this form filled out at or before the open forum. The form contains the date, name, address of requester, identification (student, parent, staff, district resident, etc.), agenda item topic to speak about and a brief description of comments.”
He listed open forum protocols on the request form:
• The Board Chair will recognize one speaker at a time. Only those speakers recognized by the Chair will be allowed to speak.
• If you are approved to speak, you will be speaking directly to the School Board, not to the audience, staff, students or community.
• Comments must be limited to items on the agenda.
• Comments must be informational in nature and not exceed five minutes.
• If there are a number of individuals present to speak on the same topic, please designate a spokesperson that can summarize the issue.
• All written requests must meet the requirements of the comment period protocol, or the request will be denied.
• The Board cannot engage in a discussion or debate in the allotted five minutes, but will take information and find answers, if appropriate.
• Comments must not reference identifiable information about employees or students.
• Comments must not use profanity, insults, threats or defame a person’s character.
• A violation of the Open Forum Protocols is subject to Minnesota Statute 609.72 Disorderly Conduct.
• All open forum requests will be reviewed by the board chair and be accepted or denied.
The policy change will be reviewed and discussed at the board’s Nov. 8 business meeting. Like all policies, the board will have three consecutive readings of the proposal before formal adoption.

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