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Nystrom resigns from Brainerd School Board: Family health, board criticism cited as reasons

Bob Nystrom was first elected to the Brainerd School Board in 2001.

Bob Nystrom 2021
Bob Nystrom

Bob Nystrom is stepping down from his seat on the Brainerd School Board, effective Sunday, Oct. 10.

Both family health issues and an ever-growing pressure on board members during a tumultuous year led to Nystrom’s decision, he told the Dispatch Friday.

Nystrom’s wife, Rachel Reabe Nystrom — a former Crow Wing County commissioner — was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s a few years ago, and the condition is worsening. Nystrom, 64, said he is his wife’s primary caregiver and is dealing with his family’s reaction to the tough diagnosis while also caring for his elderly parents.

His wife’s health coupled with controversial issues like critical race theory and mask mandates eventually became too much for Nystrom, who has sat on the board for 17 years since 2001, with a break from 2010-12.

RELATED: Nystrom resigns as school board chair, remains on board
“That June 14 meeting happened, and it’s like all of a sudden, my world was just exploded,” he said, referring to a meeting where several members of the public spoke with concerns about critical race theory, a subject area board members have repeatedly said is not nor ever will be taught at Brainerd Public Schools. One of the speakers at that meeting referenced a passage in the Bible, telling the board members he would be back to dump hot coals on their heads.

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“And then it continued all summer,” Nystrom said.

As the appointed board chair for 2021, Nystrom decided to take a step back and resign his chairmanship in August, while continuing to sit on the board.


"A lot of them will say, ‘This is what you signed up for when you ran for election.’ And I haven’t told any of them, but the reality of it is, no we didn’t. We didn’t sign up for this."

— Bob Nystrom


“What I should have probably done was resign that night I stepped down from the chairmanship, but I really wanted to make it work. And for a while it did, but the tone and the rhetoric just kept getting worse,” he said.

Nystrom said he knows people will likely call him a quitter and some may rejoice that they got a board member to resign, but that’s OK.
“People are going to say what they want,” he said, noting that ultimately, he has to take care of his family and his wife of 40 years.

0516quinny-nystrom.jpg
Bob Nystrom poses with wife Rachel Reabe Nystrom and daughter Quinn Nystrom in 2019, when Quinn was about to leave with a caravan to Canada to buy cheaper insulin as part of a political movement. Contributed / Quinn Nystrom

“A lot of them will say, ‘This is what you signed up for when you ran for election.’ And I haven’t told any of them, but the reality of it is, no we didn’t. We didn’t sign up for this,” he added. “Most of my school board career has been with a community that at times will disagree — even permanently, like in ‘07-’08 when the levy failed. But they’ve always realized, ‘OK, if I don’t like what he or she is doing, I can run for school board myself. And if I’m not willing to do that, I need to step back.’ That’s how it always was in this community, and now it’s like people can say anything because of social media. I think that’s what’s changed. They can say whatever they want, and it’s awful. It’s name calling, it’s threats.”

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RELATED: Face coverings to stay in place in Brainerd Public Schools
Nystrom said he holds no grudges against those who have been negative toward him, understanding everyone has the right to their opinion, but wishes it could have been done in a more civil and respectful manner.

He has always been in it for the kids, he said, no matter the issue. While some people may disagree with board decisions — like the districtwide mask mandate this year — board members always feel they have to do what’s right for the students.

“And we did not deserve to have that mask thing dumped on us by the state,” Nystrom said, noting the state left COVID-19 protocols up to school districts this year. “We’re not health experts. We did the best we could with the information that we could gather from the professionals — MDE (Minnesota Department of Education), CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), MDH (Minnesota Department of Health), the governor’s office.”

RELATED: Brainerd students to mask up: Split school board vote mandates face coverings
But when looking back on his 17 years on the board, Nystrom recalls several victories, including passing the bond measure in 2002 to build Forestview Middle School and, of course, the successful referendum in 2018. He thanked the community for electing him five different times, allowing him to give back.

“They always have my back, and coming from a kid that grew up on the south side of Brainerd, to have people that really have supported me through my whole life has been incredible. And that’s why I continued to run,” he said. “... I wanted to help my community in the best way I could. Part of that was to keep our school district strong.”

Lastly, Nystrom said he would be remiss if he did not thank the district’s staff for making Brainerd Public Schools, in his opinion, the best district in the state.


"They always have my back, and coming from a kid that grew up on the south side of Brainerd, to have people that really have supported me through my whole life has been incredible."

— Bob Nystrom


“And we have the best staff in the state,” he said. “… I just thank them and want to let people know that those people are dedicated to serving children. With any group, there’s always going to be someone that’s going to be political, but the great majority of teachers just want to take care of kids and provide them a safe environment and just get them to achieve a higher goal.”

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The school board is expected to accept Nystrom’s resignation at its next meeting Monday and discuss how to fill the vacancy. The board is allowed by state statute to fill the vacancy until the next election and then have a special election to fill the remainder of Nystrom’s term, which runs through 2024.

Nystrom said the last time he recalls there being a vacancy on the board, interested candidates applied and interviewed before the board.

Editor's not: This article was updated Oct. 9 to correct the length of Nystrom's term on the board.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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