BRECKSVILLE, Ohio – Fred Pedersen, president of the Brecksville-Broadview Heights school board, admitted in a recent text message that he and two other board members violated Ohio Sunshine laws in September.
Pedersen, in a text to Ellen Kramer and Brittany Wigman, acknowledged that the three, outside of a public meeting, had asked Superintendent Joelle Magyar to require the wearing of the mask at Brecksville-Broadview Heights Middle School from the September 15.
“I fully intend to take responsibility for this at our next board meeting,” Pedersen told Kramer and Wigman in the Sept. 15 text message. â€œIt is true that the laws of Sunshine were broken, and I would do it again if I believed it was in the best interests of our students.
“I told Joelle that a majority of the board wanted an indefinite mask term for the college, and to avoid being accused of insubordination, she implemented it,” Pedersen said in the text message.
The other two board members, Mark Dosen and Kathleen Mack, said Pedersen did not include them in the decision to require masks in college. They were informed after the fact.
â€œFred didn’t ask Kathleen or me what our position was,â€ Dosen said. cleveland.com Last week. “However, he knew we preferred to trust our superintendent to handle the mask rules.”
Under Ohio Sunshine Laws, public bodies like school boards cannot vote on issues or make political decisions outside of a public meeting.
The situation here mirrors that of the Strongsville School District in 2019, when then-board chair Carl Naso admitted to interviewing two other board members over the phone. Once three of them agreed on a particular issue, they informed the superintendent of their decision, without probing the other two council members.
Naso was elected to the board later in 2019. The two board members he interviewed by phone, George Grozan and Duke Evans, resigned from Strongsville’s board in 2020.
At the Brecksville-Broadview Heights school board meeting on September 29, Pedersen supported the board’s recommendation for the college’s mask mandate, but expressed regret over the violation of Sunshine laws. He said he, Kramer, and Wigman would take additional training on the laws of the sun.
“I am absolutely determined to correct this blunder,” Pedersen said in a prepared statement. “It’s no secret that there are a lot of things this council disagrees with – and healthy, objective debate is a good thing – but we all agree that we need to be transparent about it. serve this district and this community to the best of our ability. “
The board has called a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday (October 11) so that Pedersen, Kramer and Wigman can receive training on public meetings and public records. Pedersen said a staff member from the Ohio School Board Association provided the training.
Pedersen did not respond when asked if he would stand by his statement, in the September 15 text message, that he would again violate the laws of the sun for the sake of the health and safety of students.
Meanwhile, at the September 29 town hall meeting, the board voted 3-2 on two resolutions, one that formally approved the mask’s term in college retroactive to September 15 and the other to maintain the mask mandate in place indefinitely. Dosen and Mack voted against both resolutions.
â€œIt’s a cleanse for the inappropriate decision that was made, so I don’t support that,â€ Dosen said of the retroactive resolution of the mask warrant.
As for the second resolution that keeps the mask’s mandate in place at college, Dosen said he disagrees with the assumption that masks stop the spread of COVID-19.
Mack added that Magyar has more information about COVID-19 than board members, so she should be the one to decide when masks are warranted.
In August, the board of directors voted 5-0 to give Magyar the power to make rapid policy changes, based on the ever-changing COVID-19 infection numbers, to the COVID-19 policy of the district without the prior approval of the board of directors. The board can override its decisions, but only during a public meeting.
“It will implode”
Residents of the Brecksville-Broadview Heights districts obtained text messages and emails from board members in September, related to the COVID-19 policy, thanks to a public registration request.
September 2 – a day after Magyar told parents she was issuing a mask warrant for K-5 classes, due to a growing number of daily COVID-19 cases – Kramer emailed in Magyar.
“I am writing to you just to let you know that you have my support if you want to temporarily impose masks on all the kids in middle school,” Kramer told Magyar.
On September 9, Kramer texted Pedersen, noting the growing number of hospitalizations and cases related to COVID-19. She asked him if he was prepared to impose masks for the whole district. Pedersen said he was more interested in the COVID-19 numbers in the school district and advised to wait.
Later that day, Kramer texted Dosen, saying she wasn’t comfortable with the lack of a mask warrant, presumably in college. She said Magyar had told her two days earlier that if three board members wanted a mask warrant, she would apply it. Kramer asked Dosen if he was on board.
â€œNo,â€ Dosen said.
Pedersen, in a Sept. 14 message to the other four board members, said he had informed Magyar that a majority of the board was in favor of a college mask mandate in effect as soon as possible. On the same day, Magyar informed parents of the mask’s warrant, claiming that three confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in middle school had resulted in the exclusion of 22 students from school.
It was unclear how or when Pedersen learned that a majority of the board supported the mask’s mandate in college.
Later on September 14, Mack emailed the other four board members and Magyar, saying, â€œThis is not a transparent way to operate, and I find it difficult to understand how some of you think she’s a good superintendent behind people’s backs.
â€œI think some of you need to spend your time more productively, possibly working on your campaign (for re-election in November) or defaming campaigns against other board members,â€ Mack told these partner’work.
The next morning, Mack again texted the rest of the board. She said people were “freaking out” about the mask’s mandate in college, in part because it was done in a non-transparent manner.
â€œThe way it was done was not acceptable, and you were hiding behind Joelle and making your own decision,â€ Mack said in his text message. â€œIt’s going to implode as a violation. “
“A more transparent process”
In his statement prepared on September 29, Pedersen said he, Kramer and Wigman recommended Magyar issue a mask warrant at the college due to the growing number of students affected by COVID-19 and required to stay home afterwards. lessons. He said the district was “very careful”.
Pedersen said Dosen and Mack were not involved in the decision-making process and were not in favor of the mask’s mandate in college.
â€œI stand by this recommendation (mask warrant),â€ Pedersen said. â€œI looked at the numbers (COVID-19), and as a father and grandfather, I wanted the district to act quickly to stop those numbers from growing and to keep the kids and staff in school. I feel passionate about it.
â€œBut procedurally, in my zeal, I did it wrong by not having a more transparent process to communicate my concerns and those of Ms. Kramer and Ms. Wigman to our fellow council members, Ms. Magyar and the community. , and I want to fix that tonight, â€Pedersen said.
Pedersen then introduced the resolutions to affirm the September 15 mask mandate and to continue the mandate into the future.
He added that he, Kramer and Wigman would seek more training on the Ohio Open Meetings Act “so that we can keep pace with the changing landscape of Ohio public schools and to remind us of our continuing obligation to our community to always act in an open and transparent manner in accordance with Ohio sun laws. “
“You can’t go rogue”
At the September 29 board meeting, district resident Kathy Holt called for the resignation of Pedersen, Kramer and Wigman “for willfully and knowingly violating state sun laws.” Holt said he discussed public affairs behind closed doors without scheduling a public meeting.
â€œYou are elected officials of the school board,â€ said Holt. â€œI am disgusted like many other taxpayers and parents in this neighborhood.
“If elected school board officials can make changes like these behind closed doors, not on public record, or on 24-hour notice, what other changes are they making that we’re not aware of?” Holt said.
District resident Roger Bundy said there was no excuse for breaking Sunshine laws. He doubted the sincerity of Pedersen’s expression of regret.
Gina Andrasi, another resident of the district, said government transparency must be maintained regardless of the side of the board member mask debate.
â€œYou can’t just go rogue,â€ Andrasi told the board. â€œThere is a process in place for a reason. “
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Dosen said cleveland.com that under the August board resolution giving Magyar the power to quickly adjust COVID-19 policy, the board can overrule its decisions but must do so in a public meeting.
“I think our superintendent felt pressured to adopt the mask mandate, which made that problematic,” Dosen said.
When asked if she feels rushed by Pedersen, Kramer and Wigman, Magyar said cleveland.com, â€œThe majority of the board has given direction regarding the mask mandate to the college, and in light of this direction from the majority of the board to which I report, I felt compelled to act. “
Magyar said as superintendent that she continually seeks advice from school board members, especially during the pandemic when new information and data is constantly flooding in.
â€œThey are the board of directors of our public school district, so when and where appropriate, and in order to assert decisions and changes that need to be dealt with quickly, I have and will continue to seek the advice of board members, â€Magyar said.