Sen. Nathan Wesenberg, R-Little Falls. Photo by Senate Media Services.
This story contains graphic language.
Three teachers from Milaca School District — about 30 miles northeast of St. Cloud — met last week with their state senator to talk about how inadequate special education funding is burdening their district’s budget.
The teachers say the meeting ended abruptly when the senator kicked them out of his office and accused them of “teaching kids to be gay and to hate white people.”
What’s not in dispute is that Sen. Nathan Wesenberg, R-Little Falls, threw the three teachers out of his office, though the teachers and first-term senator have different accounts of what led up to the confrontation.
The teachers — who each wrote an account of what happened shortly after the meeting — say when Wesenberg learned that they were a part of the state’s teachers union, the conversation went downhill, with Wesenberg shouting and getting into one of the teacher’s faces.
“It was just a blatant attack, and I believe it was probably predicated on the fact that he thought we were from Education Minnesota,” said Dave Leom, a Milaca math teacher who attended the meeting, referring to the union with more than 86,000 members. “We were not there to antagonize, and we were just going there to give our spiel and be done, and he was on the attack.”
Wesenberg, who declined an interview request, has described the confrontation in other venues, however. In his weekly legislative update to constituents, for instance, he decried Education Minnesota for “flushing our education down the toilet.”
In Wesenberg’s email to constituents, he writes that “there are still many schools with some of these books, or books like them, that teach kids about blowjobs, masturbation, sex, etc. in a pornographic way.”
Wesenberg writes that he “told one of the (teachers) that this stuff is perverted and wrong and should not be in our schools.”
According to Wesenberg, a teacher then asked, “If we don’t teach it to them, who is supposed to?”
“Nobody!” Wesenberg said he shouted.
“I told (the teacher) he needed to leave my office if he thought this was appropriate for children. He refused to leave. I asked multiple times for him to leave, and he refused,” Wesenberg wrote. “I ended up loudly telling him to leave and walked out of my office. He then got in my face and said, ‘It is because of you Christians that kids are the way they are today!’”
The teachers deny anyone made the comment about Christians during their meeting with Wesenberg and said they departed as soon as they were asked to leave.
Milaca science teacher John Shipman questioned whether Wesenberg was serious about protecting children from sexual abuse.
“Where is the legislation on the Boy Scouts, youth camps and church retreats?” he says he asked, referring to various sex abuse scandals that have arisen in recent decades. “When is that legislation coming out? There are actual problems there — legislate that or you don’t deserve this office,” Shipman said he told Wesenberg.
Shipman said he and his colleagues wanted to talk to Wesenberg about the Senate education budget bill and how it only partially eliminates the special education “cross subsidy” — a term used around the Capitol referring to school districts paying for special education from their general funds because of inadequate state and federal funding.
Once Wesenberg learned the teachers are members of the union — which helped Democrats take control of the Senate last year — the conversation quickly shifted, they say.
Wesenberg echoed themes often heard on right-wing talk radio and Fox News about teachers indoctrinating students on racial and gender issues.
Joe Wenner, a Milaca math teacher and local union president, recalled that Wesenberg said teachers are sexually abusing children with library books that “teach boys how to give boys blowjobs.”
Wenner said he replied: “These things are not being taught in Milaca,” though he allowed that they do teach students to be accepting and respectful of others.
Wenner told the Reformer that Wesenberg may have misunderstood that to mean that the educators were teaching students the sex concepts he said were in the children’s books.
“(Wesenberg’s account) made it look like we were advocating for pornography in the school and we 100% were not. I think it was two conversations that got overlapped,” Wenner said. “I was saying that we need to teach the respect, the tolerance, the inclusion, and I believe Wesenberg thought that I meant we needed to be teaching pornography.”
The teachers asked Wesenberg where he was getting his information, and he pointed to children’s books on his desk. Shipman said he grabbed one of the books and looked through it for about 10 to 15 seconds and asked Wesenberg what issues he had with it.
Wesenberg said the book taught kids how to be gay and “how to get a sex change,” Shipman recalled.
Shipman said the teachers disputed that those concepts are being taught in Milaca schools, which serves a bit more than 1,600 students from early learning to grade 12. Wesenberg then snatched the book out of Shipman’s hands and said if the teachers agree the books should be taught to students, “Then you can get out of my office now!”
Leom said he feared the senator was going to hit Shipman.
“It was so intense that he was very close to (Shipman) physically and shouted in his face,” Leom wrote in his account.
After their meeting with Wesenberg, the teachers met with another local lawmaker, Rep. Isaac Schultz, R-Elmdale Township, for about 40 minutes. The teachers said Schultz indicated he also wouldn’t be voting for the education budget bill, though Wenner said Schultz listened, asked questions and “was very cordial.”
The teachers also spoke with Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, over Zoom about their meeting with Wesenberg. The teachers say Johnson told them he would speak to Wesenberg about his conduct. A Senate GOP caucus spokesperson confirmed Johnson met with the teachers and, separately, Wesenberg, but declined to provide details about what was discussed.
The teachers say the incident has led to a wave of online harassment flooding their social media accounts with scurrilous accusations from Wesenberg supporters.
“It’s frustrating because, even with our stories out there, I just think that social media is going to still not believe us anyways,” Wenner said.
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