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Chelsea School Board Response to Social Media Misconduct Complaints

By Crystal Hayduk

The Chelsea School District Board of Education unanimously adopted a resolution addressing aspects of social media use by board members at its virtual meeting on Jan. 11.

Superintendent Julie Helber and board trustees went into a nearly two-hour closed session for discussion of the legal opinion regarding grievances alleging social media misconduct by board member Tammy Lehman.

The board had heard complaints from community members during public comment portions of some meetings that took place in the fall of 2020. They also received a letter from a community member and a copy of a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) addressed to Lehman, which was discussed at its meeting on Dec. 14.

At the December meeting, the board asked Lehman to respond in writing to the allegations no later than Jan. 2. The board planned to wait until after that time to consider a course of action.

Upon their return to the open meeting, Lehman said, “I understand that one of my private social media posts has been considered racially insensitive, and upon being notified, I immediately deleted this post. I apologize to the community.”

Board President Shawn Quilter motioned for a resolution that began with identification of the reasons for the proposed action. These included allegations by community members that Lehman made a racially insensitive post on her private social media page and that certain individuals were excluded from accessing and commenting on her public social media accounts; the board provided Lehman an opportunity to respond to the allegations and she formally did so on Jan. 1; she had further opportunity to respond during a closed session meeting of the board; and she stated in writing that she no longer uses her public social media account and that any social media accounts she still uses are private ones.

In summary, the multi-part action includes the following:

The board recognizes that Lehman has the right to express her views, according to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, both as a private citizen and as a school board member on matters of public concern.

Any future use of Lehman’s public social media accounts (either maintained by the District or used by Lehman officially as a board member) must comply with the U.S. and Michigan Constitutions, applicable state and federal laws, and Chelsea School District Board of Education policy. If she reactivates her public social media accounts, she may not limit or censor public access to those accounts except for reasons that are permitted by law and board policy.

The board reaffirms its commitment to the Statement on Equity, which states in part: “We commit to using our positions to demonstrate an unwavering commitment to the values of diversity, belonging, equity, and inclusion. We condemn racism and discrimination in any form. We will tirelessly work to interrupt and end harmful or inequitable practices and policies, eliminate implicit and explicit biases, and create truly inclusive, culturally responsive school environments where all adults and children feel a sense of belonging.”

The board established a work group with not more than three appointed members to consider revision of its bylaws, policies, practices, and procedures to address the use of social media by board members. The board authorizes and directs the superintendent to consult with the board president about the work group, to appoint other members to the work group as she and the board president determine appropriate, and to consult legal counsel as needed to conduct the work group’s business.

Because it is important to work together in an environment of trust, respect, and shared purpose, the board directs the superintendent to coordinate a board development session with a recognized authority on school board dynamics to review the appropriate use of social media while holding office as a board member. The board encourages Lehman to actively participate in that professional development session.

Resolutions and parts of resolutions that conflict with the provisions of this resolution are revoked.

Laura Bush seconded the motion. There was no board discussion. By voice vote, all seven board members affirmed the motion.

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