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Bismarck School Board disrupted by comments on race issues

Bismarck School Board disrupted by comments on race issues

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BISMARCK, N.D. _ Because of statements from a man who appeared at the Bismarck School Board meeting Monday night, the board will likely expedite a review of its policy on public comments at its meetings.

Constituent feedback is valuable, Bismarck Superintendent Tamara Uselman said later in the meeting. But, she said it “can also be offensive and, quite frankly, we heard that tonight.”

Douglas Sczygelski, who has appeared before the board three times in the past few months, mainly talking about the danger of concussions, spoke Monday about his own dispute with the federal government and made comments relating to racial issues.

Sczygelski told the board he had an ongoing disagreement with the federal government, detailing how he felt slighted by the lack of help from Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.

Board president Matt Sagsveen interrupted Sczygelski after a couple of minutes to tell him that he should quickly get to the point on how his comments were related to education.

Sczygelski was fired from his U.S. Customs and Border Protection job in 2008, according to previous news reports, for writing racist letters, which the agency said violated its rules of conduct.

“I have said in the past that I think blacks are less intelligent than whites,” he told the board on Monday night.

Sczygelski said he has never advocated violence or said that the government should take away any of the rights black people have.

After Sagsveen told him he needed to finish up, Sczygelski said students should be taught that the government and elected officials — like Heitkamp, Hoeven and Cramer — are lying to them.

The board normally responds to public presentations at its next meeting, but that protocol lasted through only a couple items on the agenda before Sczygelski’s comments were brought up during a discussion of how often the board might conduct constituent feedback surveys.

All the board members expressed their horror at Sczygelski’s comments and Sagsveen directed the administration to review the district policy on public appearances, so board members can make sure something like that doesn’t happen again.

“To think the comments earlier had anything to do with education is ridiculous,” said board member Lawrence King.

When the board responds at its next meeting, it will comment on the process of public appearances, not what Sczygelski said, since it was nothing of educational substance, Sagsveen said.

“My response is this: we discuss education issues here. We don’t discuss hate speech,” Uselman said after the meeting.

After the incident with Sczygelski, the board continued with its agenda, approving $300,000 to hire five full-time special education instructors and one part-timer.

When it approved money for staffing needs at its March 24 meeting, King had said he would prefer the administration bring up the budget all at once and not in a piecemeal way.

The $300,000 was approved Monday night 3-2, with King and Sagsveen voting against it.

The board also discussed changes to its busing policy. The proposal brought to the board would have the district providing busing for all elementary students who are at least a half mile away. Currently, Roosevelt, Pioneer and Saxvik elementary schools do not have busing since their boundaries are less than a mile from the school all the way around.

The proposal would allow for extenuating circumstances for busing students within that half mile from school if they lived in a developing neighborhood that did not have the existing infrastructure for them to be able to walk safely to school.

The board was open to the changes, but asked the administration to draw up cost estimates.

The next board meeting will be May 12.

Reach Hannah Johnson at 701-250-8251 or hannah.johnson@bismarcktribune.com.

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