FARGO — Fargo Public Schools completed its review of petitions submitted to the district to recall four school board members and announced Wednesday, Sept. 22, that a recall election will not be held.
Jackie Gapp, the district's business manager, discovered during the review that the petitions did not contain the 4,144 valid signatures for each member needed to prompt a special recall election, according to the district.
The Recall Fargo School Board group was behind the effort to recall board members Seth Holden, Tracie Newman, Nikkie Gullickson and Jim Johnson.
The district said the recall group submitted:
- 4,457 signatures in its attempt to oust Gullickson, of which 3,081 were valid
- 4,451 signatures for Holden, of which 2,996 were valid
- 4,514 signatures for Johnson, of which 2,879 were valid
- 4,472 signatures for Newman, of which 2,910 were valid
Many of the signatures were deemed invalid for various reasons, including out-of-state addresses, addresses missing both city name and zip codes, no dates, notary errors, circulator errors and address omissions, according to the district.
With more than 6,000 invalid signatures, violations could be prosecuted as stated in North Dakota law. "Ms. Gapp will be working to compile a listing of all possible violations to forward to the state's attorney's office per state law," said AnnMarie Campbell, a district spokeswoman.
According to state law, recall petitions must be circulated and signed by qualified voters, which would only include voters in the Fargo School District. Some of the signatures submitted were declared invalid because signees were from West Fargo, Horace, Harwood, Bismarck or Moorhead, the district said.
When contacted by The Forum, recall group organizer Allie Ollenburger declined to comment, except to say, "At this point in time the recall team needs to understand what the next steps are."
The Recall Fargo School Board group has cited a number of reasons why they were seeking a special election.
Some of the most discussed issues were the district's mask mandate and critical race theory, a decades-old concept that racism is a social construct built into the American way of life. Other reasons included issues surrounding school boundaries, teacher treatment, spending of federal funds and the use of distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Johnson, who joined the school board in 2001, was targeted because the recall group said his tactics during teacher contract negotiations bordered on bullying. After learning of the recall effort's failure, he told The Forum he can now "continue to serve the citizens of the Fargo School District at least a few more years."
The recall group accused Holden of pushing critical race theory into schools.
In response to Wednesday's announcement, Holden said, "I feel happy for the residents of Fargo because had this gone through it would have set a dangerous precedent."
Spending months of having a possible recall election in his future did not affect his ability to do his job as a school board member, he said.
"I make the decisions I make because it's what I think is best for the district and not because of being politically expedient," Holden said. "I didn't let this affect my job. I'm human, so obviously there were a couple of times I felt disheartened about it, but I have pretty thick skin. It is what it was, and now it's time to move forward."
Other board members targeted by the recall group did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment.