State senator criticizes Nebraska Board of Education for not allowing public comment at upcoming meeting

By: - November 2, 2022 12:42 pm

The Nebraska Department of Education website that five state senators objected to last month. In June, a link to a New York University center was removed after the Governor’s Office raised concerns. (Screenshot)

LINCOLN — A state senator who has been critical of the Nebraska Board of Education fired another criticism at the board this week for not allowing public comment at its meeting on Friday.

State Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil accused the board of playing “politics” with its agenda by denying parents the right to comment prior to the election on Tuesday.

State Sen. Dave Murman, at the podium, called for a legislative investigation of the Nebraska Department of Education last month. He was joined by, from left, Sens. Myron Dorn, Steve Erdman, Steve Halloran and Robert Clements. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

David Jespersen, a spokesman for the State Department of Education, said the board is not legally required to allow public comment at every meeting but does so at most of its meetings.He said that comments just prior to an election are often more about politics than state policy.

 “Right in front of an Election Day those meetings typically become campaign agendas instead of public comment on actual education issues,” Jespersen said.

Another reason: State Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt is scheduled to be absent for Friday’s meeting, which begins at 9 a.m. at the Marriott Cornhusker Hotel, 333 S. 13th St., in Lincoln.

Matthew Blomstedt, Nebraska education commissioner (Courtesy of Department of Education)

Blomstedt and the board’s president, Patsy Koch Johns of Lincoln, decide what will and won’t be on meeting agendas.

Jespersen said that members of the public can still submit written comment if they want.

Murman, in a press release, said “a slew of oversight failures, including the imposing of a regimen of critical race theory on teachers” was to blame for not allowing public comment on Friday. Taking public comment is part of the job of public officials, he said.

Jespersen said the board has taken public comment at every meeting this year, except the January meeting, which focused on electing a new board chair and appointment of committees.

Murman was among a group of five conservative state lawmakers who called last month for an investigation of the Education Department over its “Launch Nebraska” website, which was designed to help schools reopen after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A link, and a couple clicks

A link on the website led to a New York University center for culturally responsive education, and if a user clicked two or three times on that website, it led to a document defending critical race theory and discussing racial justice.

Murman, who is a probable candidate to chair the Legislature’s Education Committee, said last month that the link proved “unequivocally” that the department was promoting critical race theory.

Education Department officials rejected that, saying they found no evidence that any teacher had fished through the links to find the critical race theory information. The link to the NYU center was removed in June after the office of Gov. Pete Ricketts raised concerns.

Made-up issue?

Critical race theorists essentially believe that race in America must be viewed through a lens that is conscious of color, not blind to it. State education officials have denied that it is taught in K-12 schools in the state, and University of Nebraska officials have maintained that it’s not imposed on students there.

Lynne Walz
State Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

But critical race theory has become a buzzword for conservative critics of educators. whom they claim are indoctrinating students. The timing of the recent criticism of the Board of Education raised suspicions that it was designed to impact several hot races for the board this year, which features a slate of conservative candidates.

State Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, who now chairs the Legislature’s Education Committee, expressed frustration with the conservative  senators last month, saying that they are wasting time on made-up issues.


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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.