Punishments spark outcry at B.E. Area

BLUE EARTH — At the Blue Earth Area School Board meeting Monday, many parents, students and community members spoke in protest of the district’s disciplinary actions against four football players involved in an alleged assault.

In October, the four players — Wyatt Tungland, Dalton Nagel, Blake Barnett and Caden Ochsendorf — reportedly assaulted a teammate at a party in Winnebago, resulting in severe bruising and swelling to his face, as well as a concussion. Tungland, Barnett and Ochsendorf are charged with third-degree assault, and aiding and abetting third-degree assault, while Nagel is charged with aiding and abetting third-degree assault causing substantial bodily harm.

While the football players have yet to face trial, they were suspended from school for 10 days in November, as well as made ineligible to play or practice in sports, or be involved in leadership roles in school.

The conference room was not able to fit the many people attending the meeting Monday. This is the third school board meeting in a row at which the public input section of the meeting was dominated by issues pertaining to the alleged assault.

Shawn Ehrich, a 1991 BEA graduate, said the punishments by the district were excessive, and the players should not be taken out of sports and other activities.

“We are here to support one another, so let’s make a change and bring our boys back,” Ehrich said. “They’ve served more than enough time. Let’s make this right and fair at once.”

Blue Earth City Council member and former school principal John Huisman also spoke at the meeting. He said that two weeks after speaking about bullying at a previous board meeting, he was confronted by a school board member and discouraged to speak again. Since then, Huisman said, he has heard of two other instances in which community members were discouraged to speak at school board meetings.

“I just think that as board members and administration you need to be encouraging citizens to come forward and speak, not discouraging them,” Huisman said.

Renee Nagel, Dalton’s mother, said the district should not have taken action concerning the alleged assault, as it was not directly related to the school, nor should it have conducted an investigation during the time the players were taken out of school. Renee said Dalton was the president of FFA and a captain for the wrestling team before the school made him ineligible.

“These boys have not been proven guilty of anything in the court of law, why are they being proven guilty at the school?” she asked.

Naomi Ochsendorf, Caden’s mother, spoke about what her family has gone through since November, and the decision to transfer her two sons to a different school district. She said that due to the scrutiny Caden faced and the fear of being expelled following the alleged assault, she felt she had no choice but to take him out of Blue Earth Area.

“We felt that it put a huge target on his back, and with having two years of school left to complete, we determined that if you watch a kid for long enough, he is going to make a mistake and that the risk of him being expelled was too great to continue in the school system,” she said.

No school board member commented on the issue.

Near the end of the meeting, the school board went into closed session lasting over an hour, during which the Nagel family and Naomi Ochsendorf were interviewed. Under Minnesota law, because the issue pertained to “private educational data,” what was discussed during the closed session cannot be disclosed to the public by school officials.