CANDIDATE SPOTLIGHT: School Board — Melissa Nine
Editor’s note: Ahead of the November 2 election, the Times-Republican sent out questionnaires to all of the declared candidates in the city council, mayoral and school board races. We will print responses from one candidate per day in the city council and school board races this week in alphabetical order.
In the school board race, Karina Hernandez is the lone incumbent seeking re-election, and Bonnie Lowry is seeking to serve the remaining two years of her term after being appointed to fill a vacancy. Melissa Nine is also running to fill the two-year term against Lowry, and Hernandez, Rebecca Kouang, Leah Stanley and Zachary Wahl are competing for a total of three seats.
Residence: Marshalltown, Iowa since approximately 2001
Hometown: Chariton, Iowa Profession: Attorney, with a practice that is primarily focused on family law, juvenile law, criminal defense and appellate work in Iowa District Court and The Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa Meskwaki Court and Iowa Meskwaki Appellate Court since its inception in 2005
Education: Doctor of Jurisprudence from Drake University in December 2000; Graduated Summa Cum Laude from Drake University in December 1996 with a double major in Psychology and Sociology; Winner of Drake University Department of Psychology Anthony C. Westerhof Award in 1996
Family: Single mother; three boys: Riley is 22 and has recently served his time in the Marines and returned to Iowa from Camp Pendleton, CA after being stationed there for four years; Parker is 14 and Preston is 11; Also have a one-year-old grandson and daughter-in-law, Emily
Experience: • 20 years in family law and juvenile court settings • Member of Iowa State Bar and Marshall County Bar Associations since 2001 • Member of Iowa State Bar Family & Juvenile Law sections, and Domestic Abuse sub-committee for several years • Member of Tribal Court bar since 2005 • Mock Trial Coach in 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2005 • Mock Trial Judge in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 • Extensive training in domestic abuse both as an undergraduate for purposes of being a volunteer Court Advocate for persons seeking protection from domestic abuse and an additional 15 hours training in 2011 for specifically mediating cases where domestic abuse is presented as an issue • Been a court-certified mediator since 2011 following 40-hour Divorce and Family Mediation Training • Speaker for the Indian Child Welfare Annual Conference in 2005 on the subject of “Family Law Practice in Tribal Court: An Introduction to Juvenile Court and Adoptions” • Speaker for the Indian Child Welfare Annual Conference in 2009 on the subject of ICWA Compliance–“Impact of Recent Iowa Supreme Court Rulings on Iowa ICWA Dual Jurisdiction” • Cub Scout den leader in 2005 • PTA membership and homeroom parent for several of children’s school age years • Became Partner with Kaplan, Frese & Nine, LLP in 2008 • Member of Marshall County Human Civil Rights Commission in 2007 • Secretary for Marshall County Human Civil Rights Commission in 2008 • Director/President of Marshall County Human Civil Rights Commission in 2009 and 2010 • Member of the Iowa League in 2009 and 2010 • Member of Elim Day Care Board in 2010 • Member of Elim Curriculum Committee in 2010 • Appointed to the Supreme Court’s Parents’ Representation Standards Task Force in 2010 and 2011 • Established Nine Law Office in 2014 • A member of Iowa Association of Mediators in 2014 and 2015 • Attorney for Legal Shield from approximately 2014 through 2016 • Member of Iowa Organization of Women Attorneys for several years • Presenter for National Business Institute in 2017 for Seminar on School Law: Social Media and Apps, Cyberbullying, Privacy and Other Technology Issues on the topic of “Laptops, Tablets and Ipads: Legal Concerns” • Presenter for National Business Institute in 2019 for Seminar on Special Education Law: The Ultimate Guide on the topics of (1) “Bullying and Harassment: Ensuring Special Needs Students Receive Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)” and (2) “504 Plan Eligibility and Accommodation Best Practices” • No less than 300 Continuing Legal Education training hours on various legal topics since 2001
1. What do you feel are the top two most important issues the Marshalltown Community School District will be facing during your term as a school board member? How do you plan to address those issues? The “most important” issues have already been presented within this list of questions. The most salient issue, in my opinion, is how the school system should best deal with COVID. From that issue, a myriad of sub-issues flow including but not limited to: masks, social distancing, vaccinations, locker use, scheduling classes and extracurricular activities, reconciling viewpoints that are completely bi-polar, role of virtual learning, impact on IEPs and 504b plans.
2. What can the MCSD board do to help with the high number of students open enrolling into other area schools? This question cannot be answered on a whim. First, one would need to look at the statistics: how many MACS students are open enrolling into other school districts and reasons given (which may involve additional investigation), as well as how many students from other school districts are open enrolling into MACS. The statistics on how well the students in each district score, in view of the number of students actually in said district, should also be put into perspective. These facts need to be ascertained and pinned down before one can conclude what portions of the school district need to be re-evaluated–or whether it is simply a “popular opinion” by word of mouth that this neighboring district or that neighboring district is a “better” school system.
3. Student safety and parental trust was put into question with allegations of sexual misconduct against MCSD staff members. Some training has been provided and some new policy introduced since the incidents. In your view, is that enough? What further steps should be taken to address these issues? Sexual misconduct runs rampant not only in school districts, but in society in general including but not limited to the workplace, the home, extracurricular activities, the church, etc. Training and policy are always important and should be re-evaluated regularly. This training necessarily needs to include students. Extensive background checks are very important, but even these are not going to filter out everyone who has tendencies to act in sexually inappropriate ways. To protect others, the accused should also be taken out of the workplace immediately, but it is also very important not to jump to conclusions of guilt without proper evidence.
4. Has MCSD been effective in COVID-19 mitigation? What’s gone well and what still needs to change? I think the MCSD has tried its best to be effective in COVID-19 mitigation. Unfortunately, I think the MCSD has followed the “popular lead” doing what everyone else is doing. Most unfortunately, much of this “popular lead” has made little to no common sense. It appears as if these measures are taking place not necessarily in the best interests of the students and their families, but rather to appease the general public to make an appearance as if MCSD does care and is doing everything it can for the students. More practical considerations are not being taken into account. Some examples: We have the youngest students, who are the least likely to be at risk and the least likely to suffer the worse complications, wearing masks–but not the older students in high school. It has been my perception and experience that the bulk of parents and students oppose mandatory mask-wearing. Taking away freedom of choice should never be taken lightly. The mental and social ramifications of masks are seemingly being ignored. Due to COVID, the students are not allowed lockers for their books. This makes absolutely no sense. And it fails to take into consideration the sheer weight the younger children are expected to carry around to and from school, as well as during the school day including their Chromebook and books. We want kids to like school, not hate it. When you look at mask wearers, whether it be in the public at large, or in the classroom, the mask is hardly every worn properly the entire time. People wear them below their nose. They remove them to talk, eat, drink, sneeze and use the restroom (where no one is looking). The mandate does not follow the public at large. The masks make no exception for students with special needs– whether those be physical or mental. (And, if it did, this would present a whole new set of issues of course) According to the professionals, masks most likely prevent or reduce the spread of disease, when worn properly. But the benefits and burdens should be seriously considered and made obvious–as opposed to a simple jump onto the bandwagon. Covering the lower half of the face reduces the following abilities: communication and expressions of emotions. Positive emotions may become not so recognizable and negative emotions may be misinterpreted. Central to a classroom and learning are bonding between teachers and students, and group cohesion among learners. Masks interfere with these attributes. In summary, verbal and non-verbal communication and the social experience of school is likely ill-effected. Long-term wearing of masks cause side effects that should be taken into consideration and perhaps mitigated if the choice whether to wear a mask is taken away: headaches, skin irritations such as rashes and acne, feelings of fatigue, feelings of isolation, glasses that fog up The detrimental effects of wearing school masks should be seriously considered, weighed against alternatives or somehow mitigated
5. Why do you think voters should support your candidacy for school board? I am certainly not afraid to question the popular view. I believe that, as a whole, the school experience has become more and more roboticized. Teachers are stressed by the numerous demands they have to meet per this curriculum and that; as a result, the fun, spontaneity and creativity of a teacher and their students necessarily has to be replaced by a time-driven check that obligation off the list and quickly get to the next requirement type of day. These requirements, from my perspective as a parent, have made school less fun and more stressful. In my opinion, students will like school and like learning if they are having fun, are not stressed, can interact with others and can get some free time to express themselves. Recess becomes less and less. Children need exercise and they need oxygen to their brain. When teachers take what little recess time children receive away as a punishment for talking, this is not helpful for the student to learn. School is not only for academics, but it is also our children’s primary form of socialization.