The tension that fills most Duluth School Board meetings since the June approval of the investigation against member Art Johnston was thick Tuesday, when Johnston used an upcoming event on bullying to raise his own personal issues with the district.   

Johnston took the opportunity to discuss his partner’s work conflict, saying she had been bullied. Jane Bushey, a licensed practical nurse working as a paraprofessional for the district, was moved from East High School to Ordean East Middle School at the end of the year, ultimately resulting in the investigation of Johnston when he became involved in her dispute with the district.

An East parent has said he took issue with her care of his child, and that she may have violated privacy laws; something Bushey denies. Johnston detailed Tuesday how long she had waited to hear answers to questions involving her dispute, also referring to her as his spouse.

Human resources manager Tim Sworsky - visibly upset - asked Johnston when he and Bushey married. He then noted she wasn’t his wife, and warned him that he was bringing up confidential information. School Board members aren’t legally supposed to publicly discuss personnel issues involving district employees if they aren’t married to them.

Members Mike Miernicki, Rosie Loeffler-Kemp and Harry Welty all attempted to turn the focus of the meeting back to the agenda item.

At the meeting’s end, Johnston asked for a public apology from Sworsky, saying he couldn’t believe his marital status and sexual orientation were being questioned, he said.

 Johnston did not detail what comments he perceived as regarding his sexual orientation.

Welty said that Johnston and Bushey have been on “tenterhooks” for several months, and he’s not surprised tempers are flaring.

“Member Johnston, I sympathize with you a great deal,” he said, noting he was reluctant to demand a public apology.

 The entire group hasn’t handled itself well, Welty said, “but I want to see what happens privately and not publicly.”

Tuesday’s meeting was one of many where Johnston has brought up the investigation against him. Administration and board members have been advised by legal counsel to not discuss it while the investigation continues.

Johnston has been accused of assault or otherwise improper conduct against Superintendent Bill Gronseth and Miernicki; abuse of authority as it relates to staff; conflict of interest in relation to a staff member; racist or an otherwise improper comment toward a staff member; and violation of the board’s code of ethics.

It is unknown who made each of the complaints. The investigation is not yet complete, and the district has not yet received an invoice for any costs.