School board bans parents from discussing non-approved topics and criticizing board members

Another rule forces commenters to publicly state where they live, which the school board chair aggressively enforced on a man who didn't want to say his address out loud for fear of being harassed.

Mankato School Board Chari Jodi Sapp (Mankato School Board)

The school board in Mankato, Minnesota, announced strict new rules that effectively prevent parents from criticizing board members.

The new restrictions were announced at a meeting held Oct. 18. “Effective tonight, open forum participants are prohibited from calling out or addressing any individual school board or school district staff member. If this occurs, open forum will be closed,” said School Board Chair Jodi Sapp. “Beginning at the Nov. 1 school board meeting, open forum will be limited to those individuals who wish to speak to an item on the board agenda.”

The effect of these two rules is that parents are not able to discuss anything but topics approved by the board in its agenda and all board members and schools administrators are protected from direct criticism.

During that same meeting, Sapp upheld another rule that forces commenters to state where they live. This rule was apparently not enforced or did not exist before this month. The Sept. 20 meeting featured no requirement that parents dox themselves in order to make a statement.

After a man tried to comment without disclosing to the audience where he lives at the most recent meeting, Sapp said he would not be allowed to speak. He responded by disclosing which street he lives on. That wasn’t good enough for Sapp, who demanded to know his house number as well.

The man did eventually state his exact address, turning away from the microphone in an apparent attempt to protect himself against potential harassment from the meeting’s online audience. Sapp was sure to restate his exact address into her microphone so all could know where he lives.

These strict new controls on the “open forum” portion of Mankato School Board meetings come after an Oct. 4 meeting that featured less than 10 community members who spoke for about 25 minutes collectively, according to the board’s meeting minutes.

The majority of this time was used by community members to speak out against the district’s mask mandate and policy on staff vaccination. Some speakers’ remarks were followed by modest applause, much to the chagrin of Sapp, who appeared uncomfortable in the face of criticism.

At the Oct. 18 meeting, Sapp described the conduct of these parents and community members as “unacceptable,” citing them as the reason for more restrictive rules surrounding the open forum.