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2 state school board members denied entry to building

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Two Michigan Board of Education members learned Tuesday morning their access cards to the state education building were deactivated after they attempted to attend a canceled board meeting.

Tom McMillin and Nikki Snyder, both Republicans, were refused entry to the Hannah Building, which houses the Michigan Department of Education boardroom and offices.

State school board members Tom McMillen, left, and Nikki Snyder could not get into the building containing the panel's meeting room Tuesday after their access cards were deactivated.

Both members had vowed to attend the state board's 9:30 a.m. monthly meeting despite its cancellation last week.

"Well, our security cards have been deactivated and we were refused entry to the Michigan Dept of Education building," McMillin wrote in an email to The News. "Security said they allow any other MDE employee in, but not us ... even though approximately two million MI voters elected us to be a part of the eight people to serve on the SBE."

On Friday, state education officials announced the board meeting was being postponed until November due to a lack of clarity about whether public bodies can continue to hold virtual meetings.

The Michigan Department of Education said the confusion comes after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled Oct. 2 that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer did not have the authority to continue declaring a state of emergency and nullified her executive orders. Among those orders was one allowing public bodies to meet virtually.

Monday afternoon, the court denied Whitmer's request to delay the effective date of its decision voiding her emergency powers and declared her emergency orders "are of no continuing legal effect."

On Monday, Casandra Ulbrich, state Board of Education president, said there is still no lawful mechanism for a virtual meeting.

MDE spokesman Martin Ackley said on Tuesday the state Legislature is working on a bill to permit virtual public meetings in the midst of this pandemic.

"It is expected that the legislature will conclude its work on this bill this week. If so, we soon will be able to do virtual meetings again, and will. For the time being, we have no authority to have virtual meetings," he said.

Ackley said an order issued last week by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services about conducting in-person meetings limits the number of people in indoor spaces.

"We could not meet those strictures in the State Board of Education meeting room in the Hannah Building and run that public meeting that requires board members, the Michigan Teacher of the Year, the Regional Teacher of the Year, the governor’s representative, MDE staff, members of the media, and members of the general public," Ackley said.

Board members' building access cards have been deactivated during the pandemic and will be reactivated after the pandemic and after state office buildings are broadly reopened and state employees return in force, he said.