The Mankato Area Public School Board updated its open forum guidelines earlier this month, but only sparked controversy recently after video footage of an Oct. 18 meeting was shared on social media. During the meeting, parents and community members were told they must give their full address before they could speak for three minutes.
“I just want to remind everybody this is a business meeting of the school board, it is not a meeting that belongs to the public,” chairwoman Jodi Sapp told the audience before the open forum segment began.
She went on to read out the guidelines, stating that each speaker will be asked to state his or her name and address for the record, and that failure to do so will result in an individual not being allowed to speak.
The new rules also banned “calling out or addressing any individual school board or school district staff member.” If it occurs, the open forum will be closed, and the violator will not be allowed to participate in future open forums.
“Crowd noise, or any sort of grandstanding during open forum, including applause, talking, hollering or any outburst will result in open forum being closed,” Sapp added.
One of the public commenters was a Mankato man who identified himself as John Wicklund. When Sapp asked him to reveal his address, he replied that he “would rather not,” saying that he had suffered from “property damage, eggs, and everything else” by “fun people and their friends.”
After Sapp repeatedly pressed Wicklund for his precise home address, the man turned away from the microphone and gave his address in an attempt to avoid potential harassment. Sapp then restated that address using her microphone so that all could hear where he lives.
Mankato’s new policies were first reported by Minnesota news site Alpha News, which noted that rule was apparently not enforced or did not exist before October, since public forum participants were not asked to “dox themselves” at a Sept. 20 meeting.
The policies caused widespread criticism on social media, with many people questioning whether it is legal for the board to make such requirements, or whether the rules should also apply to board members themselves. The website of the Mankato school board currently doesn’t disclose each member’s home address.
The controversy comes amid a nationwide debate over parents’ role in their children’s upbringing and education. While advocacy groups like Parents Defending Education call for more parental involvement in local school districts’ decision-making process, the National School Board Association requested federal law enforcement to help handle what it described as “angry mobs” of parents who allegedly threaten the safety of teachers and school officials.
The school board did not respond to request for comment on the public forum policies.