A Response to the February Board Response, part 1

At the February 13, 2017 I-S School Board Meeting, the school board prepared a response that was distributed to those in attendance. This is a response to their response to the op ed that was printed in the Waupaca County Post on February 8, 2017.

Please keep in mind that a letter to the editor in the newspaper is only allowed 500 words. This requires the writer to fit a lot of information in a very small space. The school board was not limited to a word count in their ability to comment.

The school board begins their letter of February 13th saying that they are saddened and sickened. They also state that this unrest has been occurring for the last several months. As far as I have been able to track, questioning began at the beginning of January 2017, I was not aware of any “growing discontent for the last several months“. They also state that the actions of the people asking questions “threatens to destroy a community and a School District that has long been considered one of the best in the State.”

I’m not sure why they started their letter this way. They chose words to evoke a reaction in the people who would be reading. What about the letter made them sad and sick? How is a community asking questions a “threat?”

At no time in the letter to the editor is anyone personally calling out anyone on the school board and saying anything about their character. The entire letter is based on searching out answers for the questions that the community has regarding the topics discussed. Some of these questions were asked of the school board prior to this opinion piece being written with no response or one that says they are unable to answer, forcing the community to search for answers on their own.

In the school boards response to the letter, they say that the three people who wrote the letter are, “not entitled to their own ‘personal facts’ that diverge greatly from reality, that they are spreading misinformation, that they are making legal arguments while lacking an understanding of the law, and that attempting to hold the school board accountable based on misinformation and facts only serves to destroy the district and the community they claim to support.”

The letter to the editor starts out saying, “we are concerned about several decisions the Iola-Scandinavia School Board made with regards to the leave/sabbatical of the District Administrator David Dyb, the current status of the student/staff safety in light of the school shooting and bomb threats, the potential reversal of the approved tennis court project, and the current process of hiring coaches for the district.

All members of the community have a right and a duty to question things where answers do not seem readily available (read my letter to the school board with their responses at the website listed above). There was no verbal attack of the school board, only a concern about decisions where answers were difficult to find in the school board minutes.

The letter to the editor goes on to state, “I-S School Board minutes lack documentation on the above topics. According to the Wisconsin open meetings law, each item where decisions are made whether discussed privately [in closed session] or publicly, must be announced and documented.”

The school board response says that, “there is no such thing as a “private” meeting of a School Board.” Yes, they are correct. What was meant as private in the op ed, should have said a closed session. The board is correct as well that if there is a quorum and the meeting isn’t posted, then they are in violation of open meetings law. The op ed was not suggesting that they were in violation by having a “private” meeting, what it was saying is that if there were closed sessions, then a vote should have been made in public regarding their decisions in closed session, unless a decision did not need to be made. The board is falling back on the excuse that because they are dealing with personnel issues, they do not need to have a public vote. A vote where the board approves a district administrator’s leave does not disclose any personal information regarding the leave, it is approving whether or not the administrator should be granted the leave. The community is asking why the approval of the leave by the board is not information that the public can have? There is a lot of documentation from previous board meetings where leave is approved publicly (see the February 2017 agenda for the FMLA request here).

The school board then brings up Wisconsin Open Meetings Law, which permits the school board to meet in closed session for specific purposes (Wis. Stat. 19.85), such as, “conducting an evaluation of an employee, imposing employee discipline, engaging in competitive negotiations, and conducting student expulsions,” among others.

The school board continues: The op-ed authors also disregard that the information discussed in closed session is often protect from disclosure by various state and federal laws (e.g. FMLA, FERPA, HIPAA, ADA). As the school board has explained repeatedly, the district is unable to share some of the information reviewed and decisions made in closed session regarding the aforementioned topics due to various federal and state laws. At this time, the district has shared everything it legally can with the community. The school board is not willing to break the law in order to satisfy the curiosity of a few.

The Wisconsin Open Meetings Law Compliance Guide (p. )states “Wisconsin Stat. § 19.85(1) contains eleven exemptions to the open session requirement which permit, but do not require, a governmental body to convene in closed session. Because the law is designed to provide the public with the most complete information possible regarding the affairs of government, exemptions should be strictly construed. The policy of the open meetings law dictates that the exemptions be invoked sparingly and only where necessary to protect the public interest. If there is any doubt as to whether closure is permitted under a given exemption, the governmental body should hold the meeting in open session.” The Attorney General of Wisconsin also advises, “that a governmental body vote in open session, unless the vote is clearly an integral part of deliberations authorized to be conducted in closed session under Wis. Stat. § 19.85(1). Stated another way, a governmental body should vote in open session, unless doing so would compromise the need for the closed session.”

Of all the questions that the community is asking, none of them are asking the board to provide information on the items listed above (conducting an evaluation of an employee, imposing employee discipline, engaging in competitive negotiations, and conducting student expulsions). The main question we have asked is at which board meeting was the District Administrator’s leave approved. There is no record in any of the minutes of this approval in an open or closed session, although if you comb through school board meeting minutes where leave has been approved for others, there is the letter requesting the leave, as well as a recorded vote in the minutes showing whether the leave was approved or denied.

 

 

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