Mitchell School Board begins approval of revised electronic communication policy

Second reading, approval expected at May 11 meeting

The Mitchell Board of Education held its latest meeting Monday evening, April 24.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

MITCHELL — The Mitchell Board of Education approved the first reading of an updated electronic communications policy, making a slight change in wording of the text before voting to return to the policy at its next scheduled meeting.

The move took place at the board’s most recent regular meeting Monday evening, April 24.

The board held a discussion at its April 24 meeting concerning wording in Policy 222, which addresses how board members are allowed to communicate through electronic means such as texting and emails. Concerns were raised due to wording in the policy that could be read as to prohibit Mitchell Board of Education from using email to communicate with other board members at all.

The board got its first look at the modified policy on Monday. The new policy wording strikes out the phrase in question and replaces it with new text.

“Due to the possibility that electronic communications between school board members may constitute or lead to a violation of open meetings statutes, Mitchell School Board members shall not utilize electronic communications with other members of the board. However, telephonic and text messaging communication shall be permitted as long as no more than 2 members are in contact in this way at any given time,” the text stricken from the policy reads.


Replacing that wording is the following text:

“An exchange of information by audio, video, or electronic medium, including the internet, by a quorum of the school board and when official business of the school district is discussed or decided, or public policy is formulated, is subject to open meetings laws,” the policy now reads.

It continues with three more additions:

  • Board members shall not use electronic communication as a substitute for discussion or decision-making at regular or special board meetings open to the public;
  • School board members shall not use electronic communication to discuss or reach a consensus, majority opinion or unofficial decision, related to school district business;
  • School board members will be provided a school district email account for the purpose of school board member related work. 

Providing a school-issued email will allow board members to communicate using that address as opposed to their personal email accounts. That provision was suggested at the April 10 meeting to protect board members' personal emails in the event that emails related to board business needed to be scrutinized under South Dakota’s open meetings laws.
The wording of the new text is essentially the recommended wording for similar policies from the Associated School Boards of South Dakota (ASBSD), minus the bullet point about the district providing board members an email address.

Board members discussed the new wording before deciding to change the word “An” at the beginning of the new text to the word “Any”. Board members also discussed whether the word “quorum” should be added to the wording of the new bullet points, emphasizing that board business should not be conducted when there is a quorum of members.

It was decided the addition of “quorum” was unnecessary as it is already listed in the preceding paragraph as well as explicitly covered in South Dakota’s open meeting laws.

“We took what was recorded by ASBSD, modified it very little, added item number three, which was to make sure we provide an email account for the purpose of school board member work. I feel like that falls in place and keeps the highest level of transparency for the patrons of Mitchell,” said Joe Childs, incoming superintendent for the Mitchell School District.

Deb Olson, president of the Mitchell Board of Education, said the policy may be reviewed by a district attorney, as well, prior to the April 24 meeting.


All board members present approved the first reading of the policy, with board member Brittni Flood absent.

Radiation technology lab update

The board approved a bid to upgrade the radiation technology lab at Mitchell Technical College.

“Because of the growth of our program, our current setup is not adequate,” said Jared Hofer, dean of financial operations for Mitchell Technical College. “As the program has grown, we determined that we needed to add a second lab, which would let us bring in a little more current equipment, as ours is around 12 years old.”

The only bid for the project, in the amount of $370,898 submitted by Schmitz Construction of Mitchell. The upgrade does not include additional square footage but will instead remodel an existing space on campus to accommodate the new lab.

“A lot of this you don’t even see. Electrical wiring, wall have to be lined with lead. The room is going to be gutted,” Hofer said. “Unfortunately there will be no additional square footage, but these are all things that are needed to bring the lab up to standards.”

Hofer said he expected work to begin on the lab after the current school year ends and will be ready for students in the fall of 2023.


The board approved the following personnel moves:

  • The new certified hires of Darby Deffenbaugh, 6th grade science, ELA teacher at Mitchell Middle School, middle school volleyball coach and middle school track and field, $50,100 (teacher), $1,589 (volleyball coach), $1,345 (track and field coach); Justin Siemsen, Mitchell High School principal, $120,000; Andrew Hiles, robotics, $765; Sarah Timmer, curriculum director, $85,000 on 11-month contract and Kaley Withers, kindergarten teacher at Longfellow Elementary, $52,518. All hires are effective for the 2023-24 school year.
  • The classified hire of Karisa Hart, middle school show choir accompanist, effective 2023-24 school year.
  • The transfer of Marissa Abts, 5th grade teacher at Longfellow Elementary to Longfellow LEAP director - 21st Century Grant director and 5th grade teacher, effective 2023-24 school year.
  • The change of hours for Erin Miller, 0.6 computer aide/0.4 special education paraeducator at Longfellow Elementary to special education paraeducator 7.75 hours daily at Longfellow Elementary and Lisa Vermeulen, special education paraeducator at Longfellow Elementary, 7 hours daily to 0.6 computer aide/0.4 special education paraeducator 7.25 hours daily at Longfellow. Both changes are effective for the 2023-24 school year.
  • The resignations of Carolyn Sivik, librarian at Mitchell High School, effective June 2; Cody Jenkins, paraeducator at Mitchell High School, effective May 3; Tara Waters, food service workers at Mitchell High School, effective April 28; Hannah Wehlander, middle school music director, effective end of 2022-23 school year pending suitable replacement; Ronae Klein, assistant debate coach, effective end of 2022-23 school year pending suitable replacement and Clay Loneman, ISS supervisor, effective end of the 2022-23 school year.
  • The new Mitchell Technical College hire of Nicole Tonak, farm/ranch management instructor, effective April 13.
  • The Mitchell Technical College resignation of Kendra Goad, nurses support technician, effective April 30.
Mitchell High School students involved with FFA, FCCLA and a number of other programs were in attendance to receive congratulations at the April 24, 2023 meeting of the Mitchell Board of Education.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic


Other business

Also at the meeting, the board:

  • Approved the Mitchell Middle School handbook.
  • Decided to advertise the Mitchell Technical College student-built house through a realtor after no bids were received.
  • Heard board member reports
  • Heard the superintendent report.
  • Heard public commentary.
  • Held a recognition for the accomplishments of Skills USA, HOSA, FBLA, FFA, FCCLA, Robotics, Culinary Arts (Pro Start Competition Team) and welding program competition.

The next meeting of the board is scheduled for Thursday, May 11.

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at
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