Tensions rose between the public during Wednesday’s USD 383 Manhattan-Ogden school board meeting.
Members of the public continued to show their support and opposition to training due to Critical Race Theory. The item wasn’t on the agenda Wednesday, nor did the board announce any plans to vote on the issue. It’s the third consecutive meeting members of the public have voiced their opinion either for or against the issue, which has become a national topic of discussion.
Ten people spoke during public comment, but the room was filled with those on both sides of the issue. Kim Zito was the last to speak, directing part of her comments to specific people in the audience.
Other members of the audience began to interrupt Zito after she publicly attacked and criticized members who oppose CRT. Arguments continued until Board President Jurdene Coleman stepped in and closed the public comment.
After Coleman asked the public to leave, concerns were brought up by other board members on the logistics of the Kansas Open Meetings Act.
The board then held a 15 minute recess, where members of the media were allowed to stay. Board Member Karla Hagemeister contacted the Riley County Police Department to send a patrol car in the event the situation escalated. Three squad cars arrived at the location.
After the break, the board opened the meeting back up to members of the public.
Assistant Superintendent Eric Reid says the board spoke with its legal counsel during the recess, who then advised them to let the public back in.
Later on in the meeting, the board responded to the incident, with Hagemeister saying the incident left her feeling sad.
Hagemeister says she hopes they can come to an agreement that doesn’t devolve into another incident like this.
Board Member Brandi Santos says while she was disappointed and angry at what happened, her main concern was that there were no students in the audience when the incident went down.
Coleman also took time during board comments to respond to the incident.
Coleman says she was thankful members of the public were able to come back and join the meeting after the recess. She also thanked all of those who gave the board guidance on how to handle the situation.
You can hear the entirety of the public comments made in the above video. Public comments start at about 14 minutes into the video and lasted about 30 minutes before it abruptly ended.
The school board did take action Wednesday approving a one-time salary supplement of $750 for about 700 classified district employees.
The district had set aside funds to cover the $600,000 expense and will also utilize additional federal funds during the fiscal year. The board officially closed the books on its current fiscal year and begins the 2021-2022 calendar today.
The next school board meeting is scheduled for July 7.
USD 383 board acted appropriately, no KOMA violation, attorney says
A media attorney tells KMAN he does not believe the USD 383 school board violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act when the board president asked members of the public to leave temporarily Wednesday after a heated public comment period.
Attorney for the Kansas Press Association’s legal hotline Max Kautsch said in an email Thursday morning, after viewing video from Wednesday’s meeting, he believes the board probably acted reasonably if there was really a potential for violence, even if not in strict compliance with the law. He pointed to the fact that the meeting was continuously live streamed, so there were alternatives to public access.
He also states there is no evidence the board considered or discussed official business at any time while the public was out of the room; a requirement for a meeting to occur under the law.