School board, recoiling from abusive audience, retreats from meeting

Prior Lake, Minn., students and activists bristle over lack of action against vile, racist video posted three weeks ago
Prior Lake Board Screen Grab
(Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools video screen grab)

SAVAGE, Minn. (WKBT) — Angry, abusive audience behavior prompted several school board members to bolt from a meeting, but the topic wasn’t related to COVID-19 and wearing masks like recent Coulee Region meetings where board members have been under siege.

Instead, the Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools board members left the meeting Monday night in reaction irate statements from students and an activist who demanded accountability for a racially charged, epithet-laced viral video in which a high school student berated a black freshman and urged her to kill herself.

In the one-minute video, the taunter tells the girl, who has battled mental health issues and attempted to kill herself, to “kill yourself right this time” — cut deeper or hang a rope higher.

It is illegal in Minnesota to urge someone to commit suicide.

The board convened the hearing on race issues Monday in the wake of the video, which targeted 14-year-old Prior Lake High School student Nya Sigin. The video prompted a large student protest outside the school on Nov. 11.

A man at the meeting Monday began cursing at the board, prompting members to adjourn before they even got to the main agenda, according to Twin Cities media reports.

“I was going to enter this room with a blow horn and I wasn’t going to listen to anything you had to say,” said the man, whom the Minneapolis Star Tribune identified as Lavish Mack.

When a board member told him members needed to adhere to the public agenda, Mack shot back that, even though he wasn’t “invited to speak,” he planned to take more than the three minutes usually allotted to speakers.

“I’m not here to talk about equity or equality and diversity, I’m here to demand that the school takes accountability,” he said, raising his voice to shout, “in the light of an international scandal! You all need to make a decision! In the light of an international scandal! You all need to make a god-damned decision!”

The majority of the board in the Twin Cities suburb walked out after he said members should make a “f****** decision,” according to media reports. Some board members returned and listened to him a little longer.

The board left again, except for the only person of color on the board, when a black female student who spoke after Mack accused district staff members and students of “saying the n-word,” according to the reports.

“It’s sick. It’s a travesty,” said the student, a junior.

The school board came back to close the meeting, when a visibly upset Nya’s sister, Elizabeth approached and shouted: “You do not listen to anything we have to say.

“Every day we have to struggle, and you can just walk out of the room and not see what we have to go through,” she said.

“You all are white and you all raise racist children … you do not care about any of us in this room, and I hope every day that your children feel what we feel … and go through everything we have to go through,” Elizabeth said.

Other current and past students also spoke out, alleging racist experiences at the school.

The Sigins sisters’ older brother, Luke, a Prior Lake High student, said, “It hurt me so much knowing that my sisters have been going to school dealing with this stuff. She deals with this on a (regular) basis and yet nothing happens until a video goes viral online. That is so sad.”

A member of the Prior Lake Black Student Union told the board members: “We would love for any support to be given, especially regarding Prior Lake High School students. We should not be dealing with racial issues at this age, especially during these supposed modern times.”

Superintendent Teri Staloch said school officials are “listening to the voices and the needs of our students,” while condemning the racist video.

Staloch said in a written statement released Monday night that the student who made the video is no longer at the school, and the board is working to create a safe and respectful environment for its students, according to WCCO-TV, a CBS affiliate.

It wasn’t clear whether her exit was the result of any enforcement action or because she left. There was no update on the status of the second student, who can be heard but not seen in the video.

The Savage Police Department continues to investigate the incident, Staloch said.

School boards in several Coulee Region districts, including Holmen and Sparta, have faced irascible parents over COVID masking rules. Some have pressed for recall elections for board members, and one school board member has resigned because of the charged atmosphere.

Nationally, several school boards have demanded measures to ensure their safety because of volatile behavior at meetings.

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