A Big Lake school board member has been censured by his fellow board members and stripped of his committee duties.
The action came Aug. 25 after Derek Nelson was accused of improprieties while serving as the coach of a Big Lake-based cheerleading team.
Nelson, elected in a Nov. 2, 2021, was the top vote-getter among five candidates in a special school board election to fill a seat vacated earlier in 2021 by Lori Kampa.
The board expressed the desire to have Nelson resign as a school board member during the Aug. 25 meeting prior to its unanimous vote to censure Nelson, but Nelson declined.
However, after a 75 minute discussion Aug. 25 on the allegations before him and his future as a school board member, Nelson left the meeting for the remainder of the evening.
The Big Lake School District offers a sideline cheerleading program as a school-sponsored activity. However, an outside-of-school competitive cheerleading program run by Nelson and his wife Kaylene Nelson is a popular alternative offered within the community. The Nelson’s program competed in the National High School Cheerleading Championships in February in Orlando, competing in the small varsity non-tumbling game-day competition, as well as the small varsity co-ed non-tumbling competition, in which the team advanced to the semifinals.
School board members made it clear in censuring Nelson that he was not being accused of harming any girl in the cheerleading program. Nor did Nelson ever have any inappropriate contact or interaction with a girl in the cheerleading program.
The Big Lake School Board retained the services of investigation firm Abdo Solutions which conducted an investigation into allegations made against Nelson.
It should be noted that Nelson was given the opportunity to participate in the Abdo Solutions investigation during an Aug. 16 special meeting of the Big Lake School Board and was provided the opportunity to respond to the findings of Abdo.
As a result of that investigation, according to a resolution approved Aug. 22 by the Big Lake School Board, Nelson has been accused of:
• Failing to provide appropriate transportation to students;
• Failing to ensure a reasonable standard of care and supervision was provided for students under his supervision;
• Engaging in a breach of the ethical duties as school board member by:
a) Employing, in his personal businesses, School District students whose participation in activities he oversees could be negatively or positively influenced by him based upon his roles within the School District;
b) Accepting an incompatible position on a panel of community members for interviewing and influencing a decision on the appointment/employment of a public official/employee in another government entity charged with overseeing the appropriateness of Member Nelson’s conduct as a school board member/employee;
• Failing to employ safeguards against improper relationships with School District staff, volunteers and/or parents;
• Engaging in disparaging and unprofessional comments to or about School District students;
• Engaging in conduct in his personal capacity toward other community organizations and community members that impacts the appearance of professionalism and credibility of Member Nelson as a School Board member;
• Failing to abide by School District Policy 423 (Employee-Student Relationships) by failing to employ safeguards against improper relationships or claims of improper relationships with students and engaging in excessive informal, social, and unprofessional involvement with students;
• Failing to comply with School District policies and procedures related to employment and retention of employees and volunteers and operation of School District programs;
• Engaging in improper financial practices that co-mingled School District public funds with funds from non-School District entities; and
• Collecting unauthorized fees from students.
The Big Lake School Board stated that Nelson violated his legal duties and reasonable standard of care to students; breached his ethical duties as a School Board member, violated School District policies and procedures, resulted in the improper use/management of public funds, exposed Member Nelson to potential civil and criminal liability and exposed the School District to potential civil liability, was unprofessional and reflects poorly on his reputation and that of the School District as a whole.
In addition to censuring Nelson and stripping him of his school board committee assignments, the Big Lake School Board directed Nelson to participate in additional training for school board members. The training program and attendance at the training that Nelson is being directed to participate in will be overseen by School Board Chair Tonya Reasoner, according to school board minutes.
Nelson will be compensated through the school district for his participation in the school district-mandated training.
At the time Nelson filed for the 2021 Big Lake School Board special election, he stated he was also coach of the Big Lake High School speech team, in addition to his involvement with the cheerleading team, according to his campaign literature. Nelson also stated that his business, Guardian Enterprises, Inc., worked with the Big Lake Schools and Wright Technical Center and their On The Job Training programs, providing employment opportunities for students in Big Lake.
Nelson stated that he served as the vice-president of the Big Lake Lions Club, but is not listed as a 2022-23 officer of the organization. Nelson was also a member of the Spud Fest executive board.