Board member Mike Reis

Board member Mike Reis disputing changes made by Superintendent Robert McDowell to the district's COVID-19 operational plan during the Jan. 27 board meeting. 

New board member argues changes to COVID-19 plan illegal

Last night’s school board meeting in Hastings saw a heated debate as board newcomer Mike Reis accused the superintendent and last year’s board of illegally making changes to the district’s Return to In-Person Learning Plan.

Reis argued that the district’s update to its COVID-19 operational plan on Jan. 18 where the superintendent reduced the quarantine period from 10 to five days was illegal because it was changed without board action.

“We were not consulted about the CDC changes, we were not advised, no one reached out to us,” Reis said.

During the board’s discussion period on resolutions, rules and policies Reis handed out papers to the other board members containing emails he said were between him and director of legal and policy services for Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA) Terry Morrow.

Reis said he blacked out portions of the emails to “keep it on topic.”

In these emails, Reis said he asked Morrow if a policy or resolution can be made that gives the superintendent authority to change a resolution without getting board approval, to which he read back Morrow’s email response:

“A resolution may authorize a superintendent or other employee to make decisions and take actions. The degree of latitude might not constitute a change of the resolution. The resolution’s text cannot be changed without board action.”

During the meeting, Reis frequently argued that under no circumstance can the superintendent change a resolution without board action based on the email he received from Morrow.

Board Chair Brian Davis and Superintendent Bob McDowell argued that the superintendent can make changes if it is specifically written in their resolution that he may do that. And the Return to In-Person Learning Plan allows just that.

According to the Health and Safety Measures section of the Return to In-Person Learning Plan:

“The superintendent is hereby authorized, after consultation with the board chair and notification to the school board, to select and implement different health and safety measures for the school district or any specific school buildings without school board action, if the superintendent believes that prompt implementation and different health and safety measures is necessary. And that the constraints of time and public health considerations rendered impractical to school board meetings to approve the implementation.”

McDowell said this resolution’s language allows the superintendent to make health and safety changes like the shortened quarantine days without board approval.

Reis fought back on this point, saying that based on the information he received from Morrow, a resolution giving a superintendent power to adopt health and safety changes cannot be made at all.

“You can’t make a policy that invalidates the law, and the law specifically says it can’t be changed without board action,” Reis claimed. “Just because you did it before, doesn’t mean that it is valid.”

Davis responded to Reis’ claims by saying depending on how a resolution is written, the superintendent can make changes to it, so the board doesn’t have to meet every time a resolution needs to be updated. 

Board Vice Chair Stephanie Malm expressed concern with where Reis got his claims that the board’s resolution was illegal because Morrow is the legal director of MSBA, but he does not give legal advice to school boards.

“It’s important that our licensed attorneys interpret the law accordingly,” Malm said.

Board member Lisa Hedin expressed the importance of having a legal professional read the resolution in whole before making statements on its legality.

Reis did not share the district’s Return to In-Person Learning resolution with Morrow when asking if the superintendent’s actions were legal, he only asked Morrow if it was legal for a superintendent to make changes without board action.

To resolve the situation, Davis said he would have both Morrow and Hastings school district’s attorneys look over the Return to In-Person Learning resolution to determine if there are any legal issues in it.

“I’m asking to be allowed to provide it to Mr. Morrow, vet the whole [resolution] in its entirety to make sure the full context is there, then we can move it forward from there in terms of everything we do, not just on this particular piece,” he said.

Davis said he is more than willing to look at how resolutions are written and how the board creates policies to ensure that the board can effectively work together going forward.

“We are a unit, we’re a new unit and we may operate differently,” he said. “And that’s OK as long as we’re working within a democratic process where we have our votes.”

Hedin said she is in support of getting a written response from the district’s legal team, but thought that the process is redundant because their legal team already reviewed the resolution when it was written.

“I will express that I’m concerned about this because we already involved them in developing the resolution, we paid for their time in the development, and we’re going to pay for their time again,” she said.

Hedin said this is the best way to resolve the issue, although she doesn’t believe it is an efficient or effective way to operate as a board.

 

Written By

Reporter

Sophia Voight is a reporter for the Hastings Star Gazette. She is from Oshkosh, WI and graduated from the UW Oshkosh with a bachelor's degree in Multimedia Journalism in 2021. She can be reached with any news tips at svoight@orourkemediagroup.com

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