The Brainerd School Board declined to hear public comments Monday, July 13, after the joint Facebook account of a board member posted inflammatory social media comments regarding Muslim Americans during Black Lives Matter protests.
Chair Tom Haglin said the board would not hear public comments from a number of Brainerd Public Schools alumni who expressed concerns regarding Facebook posts attributed to the account Doug-Sue Kern, which speculated the Black Lives Matter movement intended, or were complicit in a conspiracy, to establish Sharia law on U.S. soil. Sue Kern is a member of the Brainerd School Board.
“They are protesting to DEFUND the Police,” the Friday, July 10 post by the Doug-Sue Kern account stated in part. “I am sure they want Sharia in Minneapolis. We are NOT Minneapolis.”
Both Kerns were present at the counterprotest Friday before the insurance office of Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka on Fairview Road, Baxter, where Gazelka works as an agent.
Black Lives Matter protesters have accused Gazelka of stonewalling necessary legislation to curb police brutality in the state of Minnesota, while counterprotesters defended Gazelka and characterized Black Lives Matter as disingenuous. Doug Kern was a primary organizer and speaker in the counterprotest gathering.
“These concerns will not be read publicly tonight because the public comment period is not the proper venue for raising and considering allegations against a representative of the school district,” Haglin said during a prepared statement. “With that being said, I have discussed the post with Director Kern and want to briefly respond to the concerns that have been raised. Most importantly, as should be clear from the post itself, the views stated in the post are not the views of the Board of Education and Brainerd Public Schools.”
Haglin emphasized the Kerns’ Facebook account is a joint account by both Sue Kern and her husband, Doug Kern — though, he noted, primarily it’s used by Doug Kern and largely reflects his thoughts.
“Director Kern’s husband wrote the post in question and is the primary user of the Facebook account on which the posts appear,” Haglin said. “Moving forward, Director Kern has informed me that Mr. Kern will set up his own Facebook account to avoid any future confusion about who’s the author of this post.”
“I don’t expect any further action on this issue to be necessary given the First Amendment’s substantial protections for private citizen’s free speech — in this case, Mr. Kern — on political issues and the fact this is not the role of Brainerd Public Schools to regulate what private citizens say on social media,” Haglin concluded. “Thank you to those who did step forward to share concerns and, as always, the Board of Education and the Brainerd Public Schools administration welcome feedback from the community.”
In an email Monday evening, Anna Gardner, a 2015 alumnus of Brainerd High School, decried the board’s position as a form of censorship where directors arbitrarily pick and choose which public comments are worthy of discussion.
Out of respect for the board’s social distancing guidelines Gardner organized a virtual gathering of commenters who intended to speak out against Doug Kern’s comments that painted all Muslims as extremists. She noted the board opted to hear a public comment on a separate issue, but deigned to ignore more than 25 people who submitted comments regarding the Kern post that went unaddressed.
“There were at least 25 if not more public comments sent for tonight's meeting. … The fact that none of these were read and one 1 public comment was read, is truly disappointing and severe censorship of the public by the school board,” the email stated. “The fact that the board gets to pick and choose what they want to hear is so, so disappointing.”
In a Facebook post Monday, the user of Doug-Sue Kern — who identified themselves as Doug Kern — stated they would keep the original account, but open up a new page intended for gatherings, protests, news and events. Then, the account posted a follow-up comment which characterized Gardner’s virtual event as an attempt to stage a Black Lives Matter protest at the school board meeting and have Sue Kern removed from the board:
“SO tonight at 5:30 Anna Gardner has rallied troops to do a BLM at Washington HIgh School during the School Board Meeting to try to remove Sue from the School Board for supporting our police & Gazelka —— Would love to have a bunch of people show to support her….yes I am 100% against Sharia….Doug.”
In an email Monday, Paula Cotten, a 1986 alumnus of Brainerd High School, criticized the posts as dishonest, as well as unacceptable for an account attached to a school board member or anyone involved in education.
“This was about creating a conversation on Islamophobia rhetoric, not getting Sue off the Board,” Cotten’s email stated. “It’s not even about BLM or defunding the police? Doug made it about that, I guess. ... Unbecoming for an educator. And how disappointing for ISD 181.”