The Hastings School Board is considering changes to its policy that would allow the public to comment at board meetings.
Currently, two school board members meet prior to the meeting with those who have signed up to speak during the listening session, which is in a room separate from where the school board meetings are held in the Hastings Middle School Media Center. Residents wishing to speak are asked to sign up 20 minutes before the scheduled board meeting.
The district’s policy 206A states, “As per district Policy 206, there will be at least two school board members available fifteen minutes prior to the start of each Regular Board Meeting. This time is for citizens who wish to address the board regarding a subject that is or is not on the Regular Board Agenda. A maximum of five speakers will be allowed during each listening session.”
Prior to the Wednesday, Sept. 28 meeting, school board vice chair Stephanie Malm and Jessica Dressely heard comment. That spilled over into the board meeting, when Malm addressed the issue and Policy 206 (which includes 206A.)
“Tonight’s discussion, I thought it was very good, because it was about policy and Director Dressely and I sit on the committee, along with Director (Lisa) Hedin so they have the right audience,” said Malm.
She said two people addressed the board members. The first was about the handling of an incident that occurred early this year when Dressely and Director Carrie Tate were reprimanded by board members for removing books they didn’t feel should be sold at a middle school book fair.
“The first individual brought up a few different concerns. I want to say that this individual has brought up these concerns for multiple months,” she said. “We have responded to the best of our ability. The incident that happened multiple months ago regarding the book fair is resolved. The board has moved on seven months ago, and there’s nothing furEYENIQUE ther.”
The other comment surrounded Policy 206, which, Malm said, “I want to let the community know is under active review.”
“The majority of the board wanted to bring it up so that the public could speak to all of us at the same time so that we were all on the same page. So that is under active review and revision, and we may see changes in the near future,” she said.
“I invite anybody to come to speak to us. I think it’s a great opportunity, and hopefully we can have the whole board a part of them in the future,” she said. “We have values within ISD 200. Specifically for tonight, I want to highlight respect and empathy and voice. I think every community member has a voice, and it’s important that they are heard, but with that there’s respect. Tonight, an individual slammed down a piece of paper and said, ‘You will read this at the meeting.’ I’m not going to read it. It’s not appropriate. I will however pass it off to the chair, and he may address it as he sees fit.”
Comment was also made on a policy overseeing conflicts of interest of a prospective board member, and Malm said the district legal opinion is that policy governing employee supervision doesn’t extend to the school board.
“This has been clarified through legal,” said Malm. “Are they (board members) considered an employee? No, they are not. They are a board member. So, that we have vetted through our legal office, and that has been addressed.”
As she closed her comment, an audience member started to speak, and Malm responded, “No!”
Chair Brian Davis said, “No statement can be made from the public. We’re out of order. We’re out of order.”
He paused the meeting for a few moments and moved on to the next agenda topic.
The school district policy 206A reads: “The school board will recognize one speaker at a time, and will rule out of order other speakers who are not recognized. Only those speakers recognized by the school board will be allowed to speak. Comments by the others are out of order. Individuals who interfere with or interrupt speakers, school board, or the proceedings may be directed to leave.
“The school board retains the discretion to limit each speaker to a reasonable period of time as determined by the school board. If a group or organization wishes to address the school board on a topic, the school board reserves the right to require designation of one or more representatives or spokespersons to speak on behalf of the group or organization.
“Please understand that the board will not directly respond to speaker comments, but invites individuals to followup with individual board members, by appointment.”
Malm said public comment can also be sent to the board members via email.
Michael Haagen provided a recording of his interaction in the listening session to the Hastings Journal. He said district policy doesn’t align with Minnesota School Board Association guidelines or state law.
“It looks like the board just didn’t want to hear from the participants,” he said.
He asked Malm what would happen if he tried to speak at the board meeting about Policy 429, “conflicts of interest.”
“It’s not going to happen tonight sir,” Malm told him.