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School board member accuses colleagues of 'unlawful behavior, discrimination' and violation of open meeting laws

By Marjorie Cortez, KSL | Updated - Oct. 22, 2020 at 7:21 p.m. | Posted - Oct. 22, 2020 at 12:48 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — A member of the Salt Lake City Board of Education has filed a complaint with the school board's legal counsel against three other board members alleging "unlawful behavior, discrimination and violation of Utah's Open and Public Meeting laws."

Board member Michael Nemelka's complaint, which was filed Thursday, indicates it was filed on behalf of himself, other board members, and students, parents and taxpayers of Salt Lake City.

One of the remedies he seeks is the resignation of board members Katherine Kennedy, Nate Salazar and Samuel Hanson.

"I told the board attorney, if they'll resign, I'll pull it back," he said.

Nemelka acknowledged calling for Hanson's resignation may be a moot point because his board term ends Dec. 31. Hanson was appointed to fill the unexpired term of his mother, Heather Bennett, who died unexpectedly in March 2019, but he did not file to seek election in Precinct 5.

Nemelka is in a contested race to retain his Precinct 2 board seat, with candidate Jenny Sika also vying for the position.

Nemelka writes that his complaint is based on news reports of texts and emails between and among school board members regarding the school district's return-to-school plan deliberations. The communications were obtained through a public records request by Raina Williams, whose five children attend Salt Lake City schools.

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In an earlier interview, Williams said the communications indicate "there's just a lot of shady things happening and a lot of bullying to get what you want and manipulation between the board members."

Some messages suggest active campaigning among some board members to influence the direction of the school district's return-to-school plan.

At least one email by Kennedy was sent to all board members except Nemelka regarding "an additional set of safety concerns" over returning to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The email states: "I have not bothered to send it to Mr. Nemelka, since I doubt he will be receptive. Please do not respond."

Nemekla's complaint, dated Oct. 21, suggests the possibility of a federal lawsuit.

Nemelka said he doesn't want to sue because "the money has to come out of the school district. I don't want to take money from the kids because of the mistakes of a few board members."

The complaint requests an investigation into the complaint and asks that "a resolution of the same be made."

Nemelka said he is convinced that an investigation is "going to find for me because of all the emails they got."

The board's options are somewhat limited, he said, because each is elected by voters in their board precincts. The board could issue a formal reprimand. "You can't fire them. Yeah, all you can do is just reprimand them, or you know, throw a rock at him or something," he said, jokingly.

His complaint also requests that the matter be "handled formally" and in accordance with the procedures in Salt Lake School District policy G-19.

Policy G-19 prohibits discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment and retaliation.

It says, in part: "The Salt Lake City School District Board of Education is committed to providing a working and learning environment free from harassment, discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation. The board values diversity among its students and employees. Accordingly, no otherwise qualified person shall be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or otherwise be subjected to unlawful discrimination in any district program or activity on the basis of age, color, disability, gender, gender identity, genetic information, national origin, pregnancy, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or veteran status (Protected Classes). These protections apply to students, employees, and other members of the public."

None of the board members cited in the complaint returned requests seeking comment, nor did the school board's attorney, with whom the complaint was lodged.

Marjorie Cortez

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