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Esko School Board chairperson resigns leadership position after football field outburst

Jeff Salo issued a public apology and resigned from his position as school board chairperson, after making hurtful comments to an Esko football player after a game.

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Esko School Board members discuss the conduct of Board Member Jeff Salo after a football game between Esko and Rock ridge, Nov. 8, 2021. Dylan Sherman / Cloquet Pine Journal
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Jeff Salo resigned from his leadership position as chairperson of the Esko School Board on Monday, Nov. 8, after issuing a public apology for his conduct toward an Esko football player following the section semifinal game between Esko and Rock Ridge.

“I would like to issue a public heartfelt apology to the student athlete and his family, to the team, as well as everyone else associated with the district and community as a whole,” Salo said. “I also want you all to know that I am disgusted with myself and my actions of that day.”

After the football game on Oct. 30, Salo went up to an Esko player and made overly critical and hurtful comments to the player. Esko had won the game 43-14.

“I publicly came out tonight to apologize, I will step down as board chair, but I do want to remain on the board,” he said.

An investigation began into Salo’s conduct and repercussions after the game, and Superintendent Aaron Fischer assigned school board Vice-chairperson Jerry Frederick to be in charge of it.

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Frederick said his investigation included calls to the board's attorney, the Minnesota School Boards Association, Salo and others involved in the incident to understand the full story. There were similar accounts of the incident from all those involved.
“I don’t think the story in any way is disputed,” he said. “I think that Mr. Salo certainly is apologetic. He has conveyed that to many people or tried to convey it to everybody.”

The recommendation and advice Frederick got was that the school board would have the discretion to deal with the incident. As membership on the school board is determined by election, Frederick said he did not think it would not be right for board members to vote out other board members and take away the power of the public’s vote.

“As far as my investigation goes, what really happened was a violation of school board ethics,” he said.

Frederick added that Salo has been an integral part of the board since he was appointed and has owned up to the mistake he made.

Each board member expressed their thoughts on the issue, saying board members should be held to a higher standard and acknowledged that Salo made a mistake.

Board member Margaret Sunnarborg said with the good work Salo has given the board over the years, she was willing to give him a second chance.

“The student may remember it, but I hope it doesn’t damage the student,” she said. “People make mistakes all the time and we get a second chance.”

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She added that she was sad the incident happened and that it had blown up the way that it did.

“You learn from it, you forgive and you move on,” she said.

While the board members were in general agreement that Salo should step down from his leadership position, board member Steve McConnell was the only representative who thought Salo should resign from the board.

“I am not making a motion, but I am respectfully asking that you step down from the board and that we give you thanks for the many years of service that you have provided the Esko community,” he said.

One of the school board’s duties is to protect students and ensure they are safe, McConnell said, and because a student was involved, he felt that made the incident more serious.

“This student is always going to remember what was said to him after winning a playoff game,” he said. “No one has the right to talk to any youth or anyone in that way ever.”

The board did not make a motion to remove Salo from his leadership position or from the board entirely. Salo resigned as chairperson after each member provided their thoughts on the situation.

“Everybody makes mistakes. I made a big mistake. I’ve admitted it, I’ve tried to make up for it, I’ve tried to contact people that wouldn’t talk to me,” Salo said.

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Frederick will act as the chairperson until the board's next meeting on Nov. 25, when a new chairperson will be chosen.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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