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Manitowoc school board moves regular meetings from in person to virtual due to safety concerns

Posted at 11:08 PM, Mar 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-09 00:30:35-05

MANITOWOC, Wis. (NBC 26) — In early February, a man walked on stage during the public comment portion of a Manitowoc school board meeting. The superintendent then blocked him from moving any closer to the board's members.

"Those are dangerous situations," board president Dave Nickels said. "You don't know what someone's intentions are."

Nickels says some parents are telling him they don't feel safe attending his meetings in person.

"I discussed that [incident] with law enforcement after that meeting and their advice was to not allow that to occur," he said.

According to Nickels, Tuesday night's meeting was moved from in person to virtual due to safety concerns.

"Rather than utilizing security personnel, I just felt that a virtual meeting was a better solution for now to provide a safe and healthy atmosphere for all the participants," he said.

A group of parents and two board members — Collin Braunel and Stacey Soeldner — gathered together for the online meeting at the Baymont hotel.

"I've also noticed banter among our audience members during our meetings," Nickels said. "And that can lead to physical altercations, as it has at some other types of meetings. And we've had to shut down several of our meetings due to misbehavior by participants."

Michael Mealy is the Manitowoc man who approached the stage.

"Am I a safety concern?" he asked.

He says he was trying to hand staff documents.

"I'm in an inquiry mode," Mealy said. "I'm serving lawful papers and FOIA requests."

NBC 26 has heard from Manitowoc parents who believe the virtual move is a form of censorship.

"I have not initiated any use of direct force upon anyone," Mealy said.

At the end of Tuesday night's meeting, board members failed to pass a motion to bring back the in-person format. But Nickels doesn't think it will stay that way for the foreseeable future.

"I'm not interested in this continuing over the long term," he said.

Board members discussed asking police to attend or hiring security to allow for a return to in-person meetings.