MENOMONIE — Students have the same opportunity to speak at Menomonie school board meetings as all other community members.

The school board discussed the topic of speaking opportunities Monday night.

Board member Chris Freeman said some members have suggested students must follow a chain of command before bringing their concerns to the school board. Students are not employees and there isn’t a policy regarding a process to be followed to speak to the board, he said.

Students from the middle and high schools had attended a meeting in October to voice their concerns about bullying at the schools and a lack of consequences for those violating bullying and harassment policies.

Freeman said students have previously come before the board and asked for support regarding athletic facility upgrades and no concerns about a violation of chain of command was brought up.

“I’m really worried that we’re creating a double standard for how we view or discuss people that present at our public forum, and that’s especially troubling because this has to do something with bullying and the way in which these kids have been marginalized and what their experiences were,” Freeman said.

The debate stems from comments made during a school board candidate forum earlier this month suggesting there is a chain of command to follow that involves notifying teachers, school administration and district administration before informing the board of concerns.

Board member Penny Burstad said this isn’t a good use of time for the board. The comments were made during a candidate forum and the candidates are free to say what they want. The board should be focusing on following its strategic plan, looking at budgets and other duties the board has, she said.

“This is incredibly frustrating because these kids are the ones that are struggling and the adults are fighting about things that shouldn’t even…this stemmed from a community candidate forum. Why are we having this conversation?” Burstad asked.

Students have every right that adults have when it comes to speaking during community communications, board member Dan Paulson said. There is no policy in student handbooks that states students need to follow a procedure to voice their concerns. There is a section in the handbooks on bullying and harassment and it doesn’t say anything about chain of command, he said.

“I think for any of us, or anyone, to question whether they have the right and whether they should have followed a chain of command, I think this board needs to denounce that,” Paulson said, “and say they have a right to come up to here, we welcome what they have to say and we are actually glad that they spoke up so that we can attend to the problem.”

Freeman said for board members to suggest those students should follow a procedure is putting a burden on the students. Despite having no procedure to follow, the students did inform a chain of command, he said. Employees may follow procedures to file grievances but asking students that are under threat to follow a process that could take months is placing undue burden on them, Freeman said.

“We should be very clear that there is no chain of command and those students can’t be subjected to a demand that burdens them in a way that is unreasonable,” Freeman said.