Chris Lind took his oath of office for the Prior Lake-Savage school board Monday night, and in doing so took a seat at the table with Superintendent Tom Westerhaus and the school board that fired him -- and the board he has threatened to sue.
Lind is the fired Prior Lake High School employee whose election to the school board caused Westerhaus to announce that he would leave the district in June. Lind's election to the board has caused unprecedented drama in the growing Scott County communities, and nearly 200 residents packed the school board meeting room Monday.
One resident asked him to step down.
"If you're going to sue the school district, go ahead and sue, but don't do it while you're sitting in that chair," Savage resident Chuck Gundersen said to Lind. "It would be the height of hypocrisy for you to sue the board for following the same policies and procedures you just swore to uphold."
At the meeting, the school board also voted 6-0 to refuse mediation with Lind, in response to a request from Lind's attorney for the district to provide a monetary settlement to avoid a wrongful-termination lawsuit. That means the district won't provide any settlement for Lind, who said he won't participate in discussions or votes regarding his complaint against the district.
Lind was working as a campus supervisor at Prior Lake High School when he was fired for speaking to students on campus about their sexual orientation. Lind, a devout Christian, and his supporters say the school district inappropriately told him he couldn't talk to current or former district students, even away from campus, about traditional values such as abstinence.
In November, Westerhaus said he would leave the district at the end of the school year when his contract expires because he can't imagine disciplining and firing an employee and then having to work for that person. In a letter to staff at the time, he wrote: "The community has spoken through this election."
Bob Lowe, associate deputy director of the Minnesota School Boards Association, said he's never seen a new school board member face such intense scrutiny as Lind is under now.
"But I have seen some who have come in with the public asking questions," he said. "In most cases, those people were able to show that their true goal in becoming a board member was to improve things for the students in the district and the community as a whole."
At Monday's meeting, one resident encouraged the district to look past the controversy.
"We need you tonight to pledge to take the high road and do everything you can to focus on the job that's before you," said Dan White, a former board member. "Will it be difficult? Yes. Will it be, perhaps, awkward? Yes. But I also know that it is possible."
Emily Johns • 952-882-9056