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Lisbon school board holds closed meeting to discuss response to student death

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LISBON — The Lisbon Central School Board of Education held a closed-door session Monday to discuss the district’s response to a student’s death last week, but the talks appear to have violated the state open meetings law.

Victor Novosel, 17, a sophomore at Lisbon Central School, died Wednesday evening following an accident at his home, according to state police.

Board of Education President Blake P. Gendebien said the meeting was closed to the public because some members of the board felt threatened by comments made by members of the community on social media sites.

Mr. Gendebien also said the board is “grading” the school’s administration as a whole, not as individual employees, in their response to Mr. Novosel’s death. “I don’t want to stoke more public anger,” he said.

The state’s open meetings law allows closed-door sessions to discuss matters that could imperil public safety, law enforcement efforts or a criminal investigation; current litigation; collective bargaining; the employment history or disciplinary action of individuals at the school; evaluation of employee performance; or purchasing land.

Prior to entering closed session, Mr. Gendebien went through the open meetings law publicly to find a suitable clause under which to hold executive session.

“I’m going through the list openly with you because I don’t know,” he said. “What we’re doing is having a discussion on … preparation and grading of school administration and matters that may imperil the safety of school employees.”

Mr. Gendebien said comments made on social media can be a public safety threat if “it endangers the safety of our students. We want to manage rapid communication properly for the safety of our students. That is why we held this executive session.”

Mr. Gendebien would not elaborate on how social media can be a public safety threat and said the district has not received any threats of violence in the wake of their handling of the death of Mr. Novosel.

Referring specifically to Facebook, Mr. Gendebien said the district’s administration was under “major fire. Major heat. They are feeling major heat. I can’t imagine what they’re feeling.”

Originally Mr. Gendebien said the executive session was going to be held to discuss a personnel issue. “It would be a personnel issue on communication for managing an emergency response,” he said, adding that board members would be discussing the contract of a particular individual.

Mr. Gendebien later backtracked, saying the board was debriefing “our district crisis-response plan, specifically relating to the very recent passing of a student.”

The board went into closed session at 6 p.m. and emerged at about 7:15 p.m. No action was taken.

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