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Excerpts from “Middle”

Dr. Deb Henton
Executive Director

During the June MASA Board of Directors retreat Youth Frontiers Executive Director Joe Cavanagh shared the following written by Margaret Wheatley. I hope you find this article insightful and that Margaret’s words resonate during a time in which you are immersed in unprecedented challenges often coming from extreme points of view.

“We live in a world of extremes and polarities. People take positions at the far edge of an issue and then scream across the distance they created.

Living at the extreme consumes enormous resources.  We spend energy on justifying our position, on attacking our enemy, on defending our ground, on protecting our position.

Somewhere in all the fuor and drama, we’ve lost sight of the middle. Yet it’s in the middle where the possibilities reside. Some call the middle “compromise” or “consensus”-terms which have come to mean failure, mediocrity and loss.  We don’t remember meeting in the middle as anything but negative.

Perhaps because we’re so addicted to strong emotions and loud noises to motivate us, we no longer seek the quiet space of center.

Notice where you’re positioned on an issue important to you. Are you sitting out on one side, justifying your behavior, assuming you’re right and others are wrong? Or are you open to the possibility that you can’t see very well from where you’re sitting, that you don’t know all the facts in the case?

Humility and curiosity is what shifts us to center. Just by being curious, we move toward the middle ground, with its fertile promise of new ideas and new relationships.”

*This excerpt is reprinted with permission from Joe Cavanaugh.

Lessons Learned

Dr. Dan Bittman
Elk River Area School District
MASA President 2021-22

When I was a kid, my parents would tell me how lucky I was and how hard they had to work compared to kids these days. They would tell me how they had to walk to school, uphill even in a snowstorm (often both ways), and how they had to do everything the hard and long way. What will our children tell their kids about this last year? It certainly was one for the record books and one we will likely never forget!

Despite some of the challenges we experienced, however, we flourished in many ways, as well. We learned countless lessons along the way as we navigated the pandemic, many of which will help us better serve our students, families and communities in the future. Here are some of the lessons learned that come to mind: (in no particular order):

  • International pandemics can happen and we can get through them successfully
  • National and state politics can be divisive and can have a significant impact on what is happening in schools across the state and in our communities
  • Students want to be heard, at the table, and provided a safe space to talk about current events and things happening in our schools
  • What works for one student or family, may not necessarily work for another (i.e. different instructional models, use of technology, masking, etc.)
  • Schools and communities must do more to support the mental health of their children, families and staff
  • Access to resources for all learners is essential if we are committed to preparing our youth for the future
  • In times of a pandemic, consistent childcare, food, mental health support etc… are critical and as important, if not more, than the content being taught
  • More work needs to be done to ensure all students feel welcome in our schools and communities
  • Social media is often a distractor and a forum for spreading misinformation and hate, causing much hurt to our students, families, staff, and community members
  • Community partnerships have a positive impact on the lives of our students, staff and families. Relationships matter!

Let’s use these lessons to refine our practices, and stay focused on our vision, mission, and strategic plans.  There will certainly be distractions such as (but not limited to) whether to mask, vaccinations, critical race theory, what curriculum is being taught, social media, etc., but our students, families, staff and communities need us now more than ever.  We are prepared and ready to lead!  Let’s not let the 2021-2022 school year be dictated by distractors, and instead, be seen as the year we demonstrated compassion, care and kindness.  This is our opportunity to show how we have rebounded, learned, and cared for each other.

On behalf of MASA, thank you for your service and commitment to doing great things for others. Your leadership and work make a difference each and every day, and the impact you have on others, especially on those that need us most, will ensure a bright future.

While the 2021-2022 school year will likely (and hopefully) be somewhat less eventful, we know there will be plenty of opportunities to lead.  Lead with compassion, care and kindness, and make it a wonderful year ahead!

Revisiting Tinker from Outside the Schoolhouse Gate: Student Speech and Social Media

Adam C. Wattenbarger
Education Law Attorney
Kennedy & Graven, Chartered
Gregory S. Madsen
Education Law Attorney
Kennedy & Graven, Chartered

In June, the United States Supreme Court released its opinion in Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. and for the first time addressed the issue of whether, and to what extent, public schools can regulate student speech that occurs off campus.

In Mahanoy, a high school sophomore, B.L., failed to make the varsity cheerleading squad. Upset that an incoming freshman made varsity over her, she posted a Snapchat of her and a friend with their middle fingers raised and the caption, “F—school f— softball f— cheer f— everything.” A second post read, “Love how me and [another student] get told we need a year of jv before we make varsity but tha[t] doesn’t matter to anyone else?” The Snap was shared with 250 of her friends, many of whom were students and members of the cheer squad.

Cheerleading team rules required respect for others, discouraged foul language and inappropriate gestures, and prohibited negative information about cheerleading, cheerleaders, or coaches from being placed on the internet. Finding that B.L.’s posts violated these rules, the school suspended B.L. from the junior varsity cheerleading team for the upcoming year. B.L. then sued the school district, alleging that the suspension violated the First Amendment.

The federal district court granted summary judgment in B.L.’s favor, finding the only disruptions were some “visibly upset” cheerleaders and a 5–10-minute discussion in an algebra class taught by a coach. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed and announced a bright-line rule that schools do not have authority to discipline students for off-campus speech.

The Supreme Court affirmed the decision but rejected the Third Circuit’s bright-line on-campus/off-campus distinction. The Court noted the well-established Tinker standard that schools have a special interest in regulating speech that “materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others.” The Court held that these interests are diminished when the speaker is off campus, but do not entirely disappear. Schools’ regulatory interests in student speech remain significant in certain contexts, including serious or severe bullying and harassment targeting particular individuals; threats aimed at teachers or other students; failure to follow rules concerning lessons, the writing of papers, the use of computers, or participation in other online school activities; and breaches of school security devices.

The Court declined to “determine precisely which of many school-related off-campus activities belong on such a list” and did not articulate a broad First Amendment rule regarding when and how off campus speech may be regulated. The Court did, however, highlight three features of off-campus speech that diminish a school’s leeway to regulate students in these circumstances. First, off-campus speech is normally in the zone of parental, rather than school-related, responsibility. Second, regulations of off-campus speech would effectively include all student speech, 24/7, under school control. Third, schools have an interest in protecting a student’s unpopular expression, especially off campus.

In light of these considerations, the Court found B.L.’s situation to be a clear case where the school’s reach went too far. Any interest in anti-vulgarity was minimal given that B.L. spoke on her own time outside of school and in circumstances in which the school was not standing in loco parentis. There was no evidence of any substantial disruption or threatened harm to the rights of others to justify the discipline under the Tinker standard, nor any actual evidence of a decline in team morale. Therefore, the district’s exceeded its authority and its discipline of B.L. violated her First Amendment rights.

Though this decision may not have provided the definitive rule that school districts had hoped, it does make clear that discipline of students for off campus speech will be met with skepticism by courts. The Tinker standard remains in effect, but the negative impact of an off-campus statement needs to be significant to justify regulation by a school. Student social media criticism of school programs or policies, or vulgar venting without disruption, targeting, or harm, will generally be protected. But bullying, harassing or threatening speech may be addressed if it materially interferes with the rights of others in the school community—regardless of whether it occurs on- or off-campus. 

This article is intended to provide general information with commentary. It should not be relied on as legal advice. If required, legal advice regarding this topic should be obtained from district legal counsel.

Adam Wattenbarger is an attorney and shareholder at Kennedy & Graven, Chartered, who practices education and employment law. For more information, please contact him at (612) 337-9306 or kennedy-graven.com.

Greg Madsen is an attorney and shareholder at Kennedy & Graven, Chartered, who practices education and employment law, and is certified by the Minnesota State Bar Association as a Labor and Employment Law Specialist. For more information, please contact him at (612) 337-9305 or kennedy-graven.com.

© Adam C. Wattenbarger and Gregory S. Madsen (2021). Used by permission.

Legislative Session Recap

Valerie Dosland
Government Affairs Director
Ewald Consulting
MASA Lobbyist

The 2021 legislative session, which began January 5, started with the COVID pandemic still surging, questions about how the legislature will do its work during the pandemic, and a $1.3 billion budget deficit. It ended without a completed state budget, significant funding from the federal government to address COVID, and a more positive budget forecast showing the state had a $1.6 billion budget surplus.

Although the legislature and Governor Walz did not agree to a state budget before the constitutional end of the regular session, they eventually passed a two-year state budget, averting a state government shutdown. However, the legislature will be back in September to take up a proposal to address COVID19 frontline worker pay.

Final E12 agreement

The agreement on the final E12 appropriations bill provided an additional $544 million for the FY22-23 biennium and $675 million for the FY24-25 biennium.

Funding provisions include:

  • Per-pupil formula increase of 45 percent in FY22 ($161) and 2.0 percent in FY23 ($296)
  • $10.425 million FY22 only in special education cross-subsidy reduction aid
  • $2 million per year for four years of additional English Learner supplemental aid
  • Continuation of the 4,000 seats for voluntary prekindergarten/school readiness plus for two years only
  • $1.75 million in FY22 only for non-exclusionary discipline training grants to provide training for school staff on non-exclusionary disciplinary practices
  • $10 million over the biennium for Grow Your Own teacher grants
  • $4.5 million of the biennium for mentor and retention incentive grants
  • $750,000 in FY22-23 only for Black Men Teach grants
  • $3 million for Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) grants in FY22 only

Policy provisions include:

  • Requirement for a school district to invite the parents of a student with a disability to a meeting of each IEP team to determine whether special education services and supports are necessary to address the lack of progress on IEP goals or in the general education curriculum due to COVID-19
  • Directs MDE and DHS to find strategies to streamline access and reimbursement for medical assistance third-party billing
  • Requires districts to provide meals to students in a respectful manner and prohibits them from imposing certain restrictions or limiting a student’s participation in certain activities due to an unpaid student meal debt
  • Suspends the implementation of new academic standards until June 1, 2023, but allows the MDE commissioner to continue current rulemaking activities and to develop future statewide assessments
  • Annual notice to parents of school district policy on absence from school for religious observances
  • Requires districts to use staff development for teacher mentoring
  • Requires districts to establish a seizure action plan and training on seizure disorders

Frontline Worker Pay Working Group

The final state budget included an agreement to provide $250 million for COVID frontline worker pay. The bill language accompanying this funding did not stipulate how much would be disbursed individually or what groups of employees this applied to, other than long-term care workers. Instead, the legislature established a working group to hammer out the details. The legislature directed the working group to consider factors including a frontline worker’s increased financial burden and increased risk of virus exposure due to the nature of their work and specifically called out long-term care workers.

The group has been meeting but has no decisions have been made on its final recommendations have. Recommendations must be finalized and sent to the Governor and the legislature by September 6. The next step in the process will be for the Governor to schedule a special session sometime in September so the legislature can pass their recommendations into law.

State budget update

The 2021 fiscal year ended with some positive budget news. Preliminary analysis from Minnesota Management and Budget indicates that the state general fund for FY21, is now 11.2 percent, $2.68 billion, over projection. We must wait until the November budget forecast for the most accurate budget picture, but this is good news.

2021 MASA Fall Conference Highlights

2021 MASA Fall Conference
September 27-28  •  Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC)

In March, 2020, MASA members gathered for our conference amidst rumblings about the COVID virus.  We avoided handshakes and hugs, and were liberal in our use of hand sanitizer.  We ended the conference on Friday, and on Sunday the Governor announced formally what we all suspected:  the world of public education had changed.  In the months to follow, we tackled a new list of challenges, read pounds of government guidance, and added new terms to our leadership lexicon (PPE, masking, distancing, contact tracing, herd immunity, flattening the curve, and so on).  Now, about a year and a half later, we are “restarting.”  While we contemplate our new reality as it pertains to the status of the pandemic, we consider the opportunity to provide excellent instruction with equity at its center.  We know that lessons have emerged – and continue to develop – as a result of the pandemic challenge.  Our most important take-away:  schools are up to the task.  Join your colleagues this fall, in person, and explore what we learned, how we are different, and how we will experience our next normal in Minnesota public education.

Find participant registration here:  https://events.resultsathand.com/21masafall/1398

Conference Highlights …

On Sunday afternoon, golfers will enjoy the Dale G. Jensen Classic Golf Tournament, benefiting the MASA Foundation. All conference participants are invited to play, no matter your skill level! The tournament will be held at the beautiful Nemadji Golf Course in Superior, Wisconsin, prior to the Fall Conference.  For more details and to register, visit this link: https://events.resultsathand.com/foundationgolf/1385/registration/310-Registration

What better way to kick off the conference—and the new school year—than by greeting old friends and meeting our new members?  Sunday evening we’ll gather for a casual Welcome Reception. Join us from 6-8 pm at the Garden Event Center (formerly Grandma’s Sports Garden) for food and fun. Our menu includes all-you-can-eat Pizza, Bonotta, Caesar Salad, and Breadsticks with Marinara Sauce.  Soft drinks are on the house and we will have a cash bar. We will announce the Golf Tournament prizes so the bragging rights can start early.

Throughout the conference, we will celebrate the service of our honored colleaguesIn addition to celebrating our members’ years of service with recognition marking their milestone years, we will present the 2021 Richard Green scholarship to recipient Renee Corneille, Superintendent, St. Anthony-New Brighton School District, and the Polaris Award to recipient David Krenz, Retired Superintendent, Austin Public Schools. We will also recognize our service pin and certificate recipients.

We are grateful to Ehlers for sponsoring the Polaris Award and Cuningham for sponsoring the Richard Green Scholars program.

The tag line for this conference reads, “Tough year, resilient leaders:  Learning for the Next Normal,”  First of all, it has been well over a year full of challenges, and perhaps our resilience is wearing a bit thin.  So what is our next normal and how do we get there?  We continue to lead through the uncertainties, conflict, and chaos, because it is our will to build systems that will best serve students and our wider communities with equity at our center.  Join our opening keynote session and Katie Pekel and Sebastian Witherspoon, who will share MASA’s equity work and open our fall conference by exploring how we can support the leadership we need to get us to our next normal.

The Exhibit Fair is a convenient way to visit with representatives of companies offering the latest products and services of value to school leaders. Our exhibitors’ participation also helps us reduce conference tuition for our members, so let’s thank them for being with us by being with them! Don’t forget to sign up for the door prize — a $200 Amazon gift card for your district.

Our Executive Development leaders have chosen four sets of compelling concurrent sessions scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.  Design your own program to meet your learning needs.  Sessions will be posted on the registration site in late August.

In 2019, the Minneapolis Federal Reserve released a study showing that Minnesota’s ethnic, racial, and economic disparities in test scores, graduation rates, and college readiness are among the worst in the country.  Since then, Neel Kashkari, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page have championed what has become known as the “Page Amendment,” an attempt to guarantee a quality public education for all children via an amendment to the state constitution.  On Monday afternoon, Justice Page and President Kashkari will be with us to present the proposed amendment and answer our questions.

During the 2020-2021 school year, 18% of Minnesota’s superintendents were women, a small increase of 2%. MASA’s strategic plan includes an initiative to increase the number of superintendents who are women to 30% by 2024. Come and celebrate the “Women’s Leadership Initiative” on Monday afternoon at 3:45.  It will be a great chance to relax and enjoy refreshments with colleagues at the end of the conference day. This event is for ALL of our participants regardless of gender!

The MASA Green Scholars program annually recognizes the scholarly work of an MASA member. Our Tuesday program features the work of our 2021 Richard Green Scholar Renee Corneille, Superintendent, St. Anthony-New Brighton School District. Join Renee and hear the findings of her research:  “Schooling and Education in a post COVID-19 world:  Using context to help understand this moment and provide a path for the future.”

Health and Safety at the DECC:
Masks are encouraged for conference participants when inside the building, but optional for those fully vaccinated.

Participants who are not fully vaccinated are respectfully asked to wear a mask.  MASA will have masks available at the registration desk.
DECC employees will wear masks within indoor spaces.
The DECC continues to have stringent cleaning protocols, including frequent wiping and disinfecting of touch points (door handles, elevator buttons, handrails, restroom stall doors and sinks).

Hand sanitizer stations are supplied throughout the facility.

Find participant registration here:  https://events.resultsathand.com/21masafall/1398

Conference Fees 

Nonmember after Monday, September 13: $399
Monday lunch tickets  $30
Retiree Members (who are not representing a business)   $99 (no late fee)
Spouses who are not themselves MASA members may attend the conference for $99 or purchase a lunch ticket if only attending Monday lunch.

There is no refund after Monday, September 13.


Find participant registration here:  https://events.resultsathand.com/21masafall/1398