June 25, 2024

Letter to the Editor

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Public data policy not changed 

To the Editor,

For 7 ½ years I’ve sat on the West Central Area Board of Education. To say it’s been a journey would be an understatement of the work all of the individuals who sit on the board (and have sat on the board before us) have done to understand public education, school finance, policy, chain of command, Robert’s Rules of Order, negotiation of contracts and the many other facets required of this publicly elected position.

  Recently several letters to the editor have been sent insinuating that policy has changed regarding public data requests in an attempt to “withhold information”.

  The policy referenced has been modeled after Minnesota School Board Association’s model policy which is lawfully compliant. All school policies are periodically reviewed and upon reviewing the policy related to data requests, a few updates were identified. The officials responsible for managing data requests were updated at the end of the policy, a request that only one data request per form be listed, and the addition of “digital/email copies” as a form of fulfilling data requests was added. Red line mark-ups can be viewed to see these updates.

  It appears that conversations “through the grapevine” have led individuals to write letters to the editor rather than seek clarification from the very individuals who set school policy. The updates to the policy have not changed 1) when individuals will receive a response to data requests 2) how data requests that require significant staff time to be fulfilled will be managed or 3) what data is accessible to the public. The process for managing and fulfilling data requests is overseen by the school attorney ensuring that “elected officials are following the law”.

  Data requests for West Central Area Schools are handled the same way any organization bound to open meeting laws is. So why are you hearing so much about it on Facebook and in Letters to the Editors? I can only speculate. What I do know is that each individual who is elected to the school board makes an oath to “support the Constitution of the United States” and to “discharge faithfully the duties of the office of a school board member” and that school policy and enforcement of policy is driven by this oath.

  As the School Board continues to identify ways to be efficient in fulfilling public data requests, opportunities may arise for change in process that fulfill the needs of all stakeholders interested in reviewing public data. I don’t believe these changes to be in response to a small group of individuals who continually question the work of the school board and who quite honestly, may never be satisfied with any changes to policy that are made. Not because they disagree with the changes, but rather because they don’t support and will continue to not support any member of the school board who doesn’t align their thinking with their beliefs. If transparency were the goal, wouldn’t such individuals also share with you that every data request that has been submitted has been fulfilled, and every document requested, sent?

  I write this letter on behalf of myself, not the Board of Education. Statements such as, “I don’t have time to watch or go to every meeting” and “[they] only include information they feel we are worthy of knowing” confuse me. We make time for the things that are important to us. If following the work of the school board is important to you, then I believe you will make the time to do so.  

Michelle Nessman

Hoffman, MN

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