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Frazee-Vergas school board member tries to clear air, stopped due to possible data privacy issues

FRAZEE - When Frazee-Vergas School Board member Steve Jepson asked to be added to the board's agenda Monday evening, no one knew the drama it would cause a couple hours into the meeting.

Jepson requested that he be added to the communications report portion of the agenda, stating he had some personal attacks made against him that could affect the entire board.

Roughly two hours into the four-hour meeting, Jepson passed out literature to several members of the audience and the school board members. It included two pages of his opinion and several pages of e-mails sent between board members and Superintendent Deron Stender.

Jepson started reading through the pages containing his opinion, saying he has been attacked four different times by school board chair Dana Laine. He said she attacked him for aligning himself with the Frazee Education Association, which is made up of teachers from the Frazee district. Laine claimed that he has a conflict of interest because his wife is a teacher.

Jepson said while he doesn't see himself as aligned with the organization, he has made it perfectly clear that his wife is a teacher. She teaches math in the Wadena-Deer Creek School District.

Jepson included e-mails from Stender that were not favorable, and replied back pointing that out. One of the e-mails included Stender saying how "disrespectful" members of the FEA were at a meeting.

As Jepson was reading his opinion, Stender interrupted him during the board meeting and said he was possibly crossing a line of data privacy. Jepson said he asked to be on the agenda and has a right to be heard. He stated this is part of being transparent and open with the public as to what is going on.

Laine said she did not give permission to use her name and called for an immediate 15-minute recess.

"And it doesn't need a second," she said and got up from her chair. (She later apologized and said it does need a second and will know that for any future recesses.)

As Jepson got up from his chair to get a drink of water, Stender asked him repeatedly to follow him into his office. Laine and other board members followed, but soon all members were back except Laine, Jepson and Rich Ziegler, along with Stender.

Ziegler, Jepson and Stender met to talk -- so there wasn't a quorum -- while Laine walked the hallway.

After the recess, Laine called the meeting back to order and apologized for calling the recess.

"This isn't official board business and this is an official meeting," she said, asking that the board move on with the agenda.

Ziegler said when the meeting reconvened that there are potential data privacy issues, so either the board could continue with Jepson and see what he has to say, or the meeting could be closed to continue the discussion.

"My view is we're fine. Mr. Stender may have a different opinion," Ziegler said.

Board member Dwight Cook said he was already concerned with data privacy. In his opinion, while it is fine for Jepson to speak against Laine because she is an elected official, it isn't OK to speak against Stender, since he is an employee of the district.

Administrative Assistant Laurie Cook said she felt the discussion should be put on hold to find out if it is public information, and then a meeting should be scheduled.

"It's best to error on the side of caution," board member Nancy Dashner agreed.

Dwight Cook said since the papers that were handed out were still in the room, they should all be collected. Several audience members disagreed, because they were already handed out and because e-mails are public information.

Oscar Birkeland said he'd like to see the board try to take his copy away.

Dwight Cook threatened Birkeland to have Laine call the police and have Birkeland thrown out if he didn't be quiet.

Jepson agreed to discontinue the discussion for now. Before the board moved on, Ziegler whispered something to Jepson, who then asked that out of respect for him, those in the room please return the packets he had handed out.