Call for civility at school board meetings issued after reference to Michigan Militia

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

A West Michigan school district is calling for civility at its public meetings after a local businesswoman said she would bring in the Michigan Militia to protect the rights of students amid a mask mandate.

As first reported by the Holland Sentinel, during an Oct. 18 meeting of the Zeeland school board, Holland restaurant owner Marlena Pavlos-Hackney said she would sue the board members and contact the militia if students aren’t given a choice on masks.

The district does not have a mask mandate, but is following a mask order for students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade from the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, district spokesperson Brandy Navetta said.

Pavlos-Hackney did not respond to messages left seeking comment.

On Thursday, the district emailed a "statement on civility" to the school community, encouraging community members to be "mindful of the importance of respectfully raising opinions and considerately listening to alternative perspectives.

Marlena Pavlos-Hackney, center, owner of Marlena's Bistro and Pizzeria, talks with patron Brenda Clap, of Holland, inside the restaurant on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, in Holland. Pavlos-Hackney on Monday, Oct. 18 told Zeeland school board members she would sue the board members and contact the Michigan Militia if students aren’t given a choice on masks.

"Zeeland Public Schools supports the right to free speech and the individual rights of everyone to engage in a civil and constructive manner because it is the right thing to do in our society and it is the right example to set for our children," the statement said.

"However, Zeeland Public Schools takes statements such as the one given by the individual this past Monday evening very seriously because they have the potential to disturb efforts the district is striving to make in order to sustain learning environments where all students are safe, valued, and loved," the statement said.

Navetta said local law enforcement remains engaged at its schools, patrolling campuses, building relationships with students and observing at board meetings.

No incidents have been reported related to Pavlos-Hackney's statement, Navetta said.

The mask mandate has been in effect since late August. The district has about 6,200 students. 

Pavlos-Hackney made headlines last winter after she allowed indoor dining at her restaurant, despite state and local prohibitions, and ignored other rules aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19.

She spent four nights in jail for ignoring orders related to COVID-19. Her restaurant, Marlena’s Bistro and Pizzeria in Holland, opened in September after having been shuttered since March.