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Some quick summer advice!

Dr. Deb Henton
Executive Director

A friend shared this advice with me earlier in the year, “Do whatever makes you happy!” She said this in the context of having lost a son and working through the grieving process for years. I  find myself in similar circumstances and try to remember her words daily. I think my friend’s advice is appropriate for you given the especially challenging year/s you have experienced.

So my message is very short this summer. Find joy in gardening, fishing, reading, being with your kids/grandkids, going out to lunch or dinner with friends, shopping, eating ice cream, going for a walk, participating in a 5K, having a cold beverage on your deck, going for a bike ride, boating, kayaking, paddle-boarding, going to a movie, or whatever will wipe away the strain of the mental and physical exhaustion you may feel. 

Most importantly, do whatever makes you happy! Your leadership matters.


Gratitude, Service and Hope through the Pandemic

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

It has been an absolute honor to serve as the MASA President this last year!  I am extremely grateful for your trust in me, the opportunities I have had to learn with and from each of you, and to have my own children attending Minnesota public schools.  Although the lessons learned are too long to list, here are some of the most significant in no particular order:

  • Education will never be the same, and that is ok.  Let’s learn from our recent experiences and continue to grow.
  • Collaboration with internal and external stakeholders is more important than ever.
  • Without mental health support for our children, families and staff, we will not be able to educate and give our students what they need to be successful.
  • Schools play an extremely important role in the lives of our students, staff, and community members.
  • Words matter.
  • Each and every employee in our system plays an important role in the success of our children.
  • Access to things such as, but not to, limited to food, childcare, technology and support services must be made available for all.
  • Truly listening to and engaging with our students is essential.
  • Time and energy spent worrying about and/or responding to local, state and national distractors takes time away from serving and supporting our students.
  • Public education is worth fighting for and will ensure a better and brighter future for all.
  • Our systems and communities are full of amazing people.
  • Serving as an educational leader is an honor, privilege, and opportunity to be part of the solution.

The ISD 728 Communications Team created this video to capture our journey from the first impacts of the coronavirus pandemic through 2022. We recognize it has been a season of downs, ups, downs again, and then incredible accomplishment in all of our schools. We are proud that, through it all, our schools, districts and educational leaders throughout Minnesota and the nation have helped millions of students and families through a very challenging time.  Our future looks bright, and I am proud to serve with each and every one of you.  

Again, thank you for allowing me to serve as your MASA President, for what you do, who you are, and for always placing students and families as our top priority.

Legislative Update: June 2022

Valerie Dosland
Government Affairs Director
Ewald Consulting
MASA Lobbyist

During the 2022 legislative session, which began January 31 and ended May 22, the Legislature and the Governor focused on some key priorities. First and foremost was what to do with a historic $9.25 billion budget surplus. The other priorities included replenishment of the unemployment insurance trust fund, COVID frontline worker pay, and finally, what will be the makeup of the new legislative districts because of redistricting.

In early spring, the Legislature and the Governor agreed to and passed legislation that replenished the unemployment trust fund and provided additional COVID frontline worker pay. However, little else was accomplished by the end of the session, despite the legislative leaders and the Governor reaching a global budget agreement that last week. However, the Legislature ended the session without passing many supplemental budget bills, including an E12 education bill, a bonding bill, or a tax bill.

Significant differences between the House and Senate on E12 funding bills

Going into the conference committee, the House and the Senate were far apart in their support for E12 education. The Senate education funding bill appropriated a little more than $30 million in one-time funding, specifically for literacy initiatives.

In contrast, the House education funding bill appropriated over $1 billion next year and over $2 billion for the next two years. Highlights of the House bill included reducing the special education and ELL cross-subsidies, one-time declining enrollment and compensatory aid, additional reimbursement for school meals, funding to address student mental health needs, and expansion of public PreK programs.

Conference committee negotiations and global budget agreement

In the last week of the session, legislative leaders and the Governor announced a global budget agreement. This agreement called for $4 billion in tax relief and $4 billion in spending in all areas of state government. Of that $4 billion, $1 billion over three years was dedicated to E12 education.

Despite the global agreement, the Legislature went home without passing most spending bills, a bonding bill, or a tax bill.

In the E12 conference committee, the two main areas of focus included literacy and the special education cross-subsidy. During the negotiations, the House continued to advocate for funding for student support personnel and additional funding to help with the costs of school meals. While the House and Senate exchanged offers, they failed to reach a final agreement.

The tax agreement, which also did not advance, included equalization of the first tier of a district’s local optional levy, a new cooperative facilities lease levy, and an increase in the school building bond credit from 70 percent to 85 percent.

What passed?

While the major appropriations bills and a tax bill didn’t pass, a few others did. First was the Student Data Privacy Act, which places expectations on what technology vendors and school districts must do to protect student data. The bill reflects input from education organizations and district technology directors so that it would minimize the impact on how schools deliver and use technology in the classroom.

The next is a mental health funding package that provides over $90 million for an array of mental health services, of which $2 million is for school-linked mental health grants.

The next was a pensions policy bill that included two provisions of interest. One suspends the earnings limitation for retired teachers who return to teaching through fiscal year 2024. Another clarifies that deferred compensation plan vendors must report 403B information to the Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement.

Lastly, legislation passed providing $50 million over the next three years for broadband grants and almost $61 million from the state’s capital projects fund to build or support broadband infrastructure.

Talk of a special session

As the leaders continued to negotiate the budget bills, there was a lot of talk about a possible special session so the Legislature could finish its work. It will take some negotiating between the House, Senate, and Governor to make this happen and to date, they have yet to reach an agreement about a possible special session.

Thank you!

MASA began utilizing a new grassroots engagement system to help you more easily connect with your area legislators during the session. We appreciate your response and use of the system, and hope you found it a helpful way to engage with your local legislators.

Emotional Distress Damages Unavailable Under Some Federal Civil Rights Laws

Alex D. Ivan
Education Law Attorney
Kennedy & Graven, Chartered

School districts defending against civil lawsuits will, at some point, likely hear their defense counsel refer to evaluations of liability and exposure.  A liability evaluation considers whether a reasonable jury would find that a defendant violated the law based on the facts of a particular case.  An exposure assessment evaluates the extent to which the defendant can be held accountable for the violation, be it through an award of money damages or some other relief.

Seemingly lost amid the significant press attention that surrounded the leaked draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was an actual decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that has the potential to seismically re-shape the future of American civil rights law, because it substantially curtails the scope of monetary exposure public school districts face in suits alleging violations of certain federal antidiscrimination statutes.  By a vote of 6-3, the Court in Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller, P.L.L.C., 2022 WL 1243658 (Apr. 28, 2022) held that emotional distress damages are not recoverable under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”) and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”).

Jane Cummings, a deaf and legally blind individual, sued Premier Rehab (“Premier”), a recipient of federal funds, after Premier declined her request for an American Sign Language interpreter at physical therapy appointments, “telling Cummings that she could communicate with the therapist using written notes, lip reading, or gesturing.”   Cummings alleged Premier violated Section 504 and the ACA by discriminating against her on the basis of disability, violations for which she sought compensatory (i.e., money) damages.  Though compensatory damages are designed to compensate for an injury, Cummings claimed no physical injuries, no financial harm, and no other tangible loss from Premier’s alleged discriminatory action.  Rather, she pursued damages only for the emotional distress she claimed to have suffered.

The trial court dismissed Cummings’ complaint, concluding the only injury for which she could be compensated was emotional distress resulting from Premier’s denial and that damages for emotional distress were not recoverable under either Section 504 or the ACA.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed, holding there was no basis to maintain emotional distress damages under either law.

Congress passed Section 504 and the ACA pursuant to the U.S. Constitution’s Spending Clause, under which “Congress has broad power . . . to set the terms on which it disburses federal funds.”  In fact, Congress has used the Spending Clause to pass numerous, well-known federal laws applicable to public school districts, including, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”), Title VI of the Education Amendments (“Title VI”), Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”), Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (“Title I”), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”).

The Court has treated Section 504, Title VI, and Title IX as legislative contracts between federal funding recipients and the federal government, conditioning federal funds on promises by recipients not to discriminate. Therefore, a remedy is appropriate relief in a Spending Clause lawsuit “‘only if the funding recipient is on notice that, by accepting federal funding, it exposes itself to liability of that nature.’”

The Court in Cummings explained that federal funds recipients are on notice only of remedies (1) expressly set forth in the Spending Clause legislation and (2) traditionally available in breach of contract claims.  The Court in Cummings concluded emotional distress damages are not traditionally available in suits for breach of contract, meaning that funding recipients do not have clear notice they could be liable for emotional harm, and therefore could not unambiguously consent to that exposure.  To reach that conclusion, the Court relied on an earlier case, Barnes v. Gorman, 536 U.S. 181 (2002), in which it had held that punitive damages (i.e., damages designed to punish a defendant for egregious or intentional violations of law) are not available in Spending Clause cases, because they, too, are not generally available in breach of contract claims.

While the Court limited its opinion to claims asserted under Section 504 and the ACA, the analysis rests more broadly on the following principles:  (1) a statute enacted under the Spending Clause and (2) a judicially implied private right of action for alleged violations.  The Court’s opinion expressly identifies four antidiscrimination laws passed by Congress pursuant to the Spending Clause:  Title VI, Title IX, Section 504, and the ACA.  In so doing, the Court seems to suggest, without expressly deciding, that emotional distress damages are not recoverable under any one of these four laws.

The opinion in Cummings is clearly helpful to public school districts facing lawsuits under Section 504, because it minimizes their financial exposure when violations are found.  Courts may soon extend the analysis in Cummings to Title VI and Title IX and bar emotional distress awards for alleged violations of those two laws as well.  Even if emotional distress damages are unrecoverable, school districts should continue implementing policies and practices in compliance with Section 504, Title VI, and Title IX.  Compensatory damages remain available under these statutes and those types of damages could, under some circumstances, result in quite sizeable awards.

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.

Alex D. Ivan is an attorney with the law firm of Kennedy & Graven, Chartered. For more information, please contact him at (612) 337-9304 or aivan@kennedy-graven.com.

© Alex D. Ivan (2022). Used with permission.

2022 MASA Board and AASA Governing Board Election Results


MASA Board of Directors Election Results

MASA Officers

  • MASA President-Elect (21-22): Matt Hillmann (Assumes position on June 1, 2022 due to the retirement of President-Elect Laine Larson, and on July 1, 2022 becomes President)
  • MASA President-Elect (22-23): Joe Gothard

Component Group Representatives

  • Region 1 Superintendent’s Component Representative: Jeff Sampson
  • Region 2 Superintendent’s Component Representative: Jeff Bertrang
  • Region 3 Superintendent’s Component Representative: Bill Adams
  • Region 8 Superintendent’s Component Representative: Jeffrey Lund
  • Region 9 Superintendent’s Component Representatives: Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed and Cory McIntyre (completing Teri Staloch’s term)
  • Region 1-8 Greater MN Technology Component Group Representative: Eric Simmons
  • Region 1-8 Greater MN Central Office Component Group Representative: John Alberts
  • Special Election: Region 6 Superintendent Component Group Representative: Ann-Maire Foucault (completing Andy Almos’ term)
  • Special Election Greater MN Special Education Component Group Representative: Election On-Going (elected representative will complete Heidi Nistler’s term)

AASA Governing Board Election Results
Congratulations to Superintendents Jeff Elstad and Chris Mills on their election to the AASA Governing Board.

Superintendent Elstad will serve a three-year term on the board (July 1, 2022 – June 30, 2025). Superintendent Mills will complete Superintendent David Law’s term (July 1, 2022 – June 30, 2024). Superintendent Law was elected to the AASA Executive Committee and vacated his seat on the AASA Governing Board.

Governing Board members have dual responsibilities. They represent their home state on the Governing Board and they report the work of the Governing Board to their home state affiliate. Through the Governing Board elected representatives, members have a voice in AASA decision-making.

Thank you all of our candidates and voters this election season! Congratulations to our newly elected officials!