A member of the public was escorted out of the Mitchell Board of Education Monday night by Mitchell Police after he refused to don a mask as per district policy that mandates mask wearing on school property.

The incident, which has not resulted in charges or an arrest, occurred in the library of the Mitchell High School, where the meeting was held with about 20 people in attendance.

The man, whom Mitchell School District Superintendent Joe Graves identified as Reed Bender, appeared at the meeting and sat in the front row of the audience area while not wearing a mask. Deb Olson, president of the board of education, announced at the start of the meeting that masks were available for anyone in attendance who did not have one. She also said that for those who are unable medically to wear a mask that they should make arrangements prior to attending board meetings.

Bender, who has appeared at several recent board of education meetings and spoke in opposition to the Mitchell School District mask mandate, said he would make necessary arrangements to attend the next meeting, but declined to don a mask for the Monday proceedings. Graves told Bender that he would be removed from the meeting if he did not comply with the mask requirement.

Graves contacted the Mitchell Police Division, which arrived approximately 20 minutes later and also asked Bender to leave. Bender again refused, saying he would have to be physically removed from the meeting. Two officers spoke with Bender for a few minutes before attempting to escort him out of the building. Bender resisted the officers while several audience members implored Bender to not resist.

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One officer drew a taser while Bender resisted, but did not use it. The two officers then escorted Bender out of the meeting.

Graves told the Mitchell Republic following the meeting that he had never experienced anything like what happened Monday at any point in his 30-year education career.

“Never in my entire career as a superintendent have I had that happen before,” Graves said, “The board said there is a masking mandate and everyone in the school building must wear a mask. We gave the gentleman fair warning of that and offered him a mask. He refused, so the board had to enforce the mandate.”

Sgt. Sawyer Gibson, with the Mitchell Police Division, said that no charges had been filed in the incident, but the matter would be under further review as the investigation continues.

“No charges were brought initially, but it’s going to be an ongoing investigation. We’ll look at all angles and make a decision down the road,” Gibson said.

Gibson said the suspect was not arrested and was escorted off school premises. He would not confirm the suspect’s name as there has not been charges filed or an arrest in the case.

Many members of the public commented on the mask mandate at the public commentary portion of the meeting later in the evening. Members of the public spoke to the issue, with all of them speaking against the mask mandate.

Those who spoke during the public commentary portion talked on a variety of topics, including asking about why a survey of parents was not taken to determine if a mask mandate was something district patrons were in favor of.

Kevin Kenkel, a member of the board of education, said he personally would not change his mind on masks based on a parent survey, regardless of the results.

“A survey wouldn’t change my mind, the medical professionals have recommended (masks), and my wife cares for and has treated several patients who have had COVID-19. She has seen the long term effects on people. Even if 75 percent said we don’t want masks, I would still vote in favor of masks,” Kenkel said.

Members of the public continued to press the board on a potential survey, but the board did not take any action on the subjects brought up during the public commentary portion of the meeting, as per district policy.

Middle school roof

The Mitchell Board of Education on Monday took steps to expedite repair efforts to the Mitchell Middle School roof, which was damaged in a Sept. 2 windstorm, according to school officials.

The board made the move at their most recent regular meeting at Mitchell High School.

Graves said the Mitchell Middle School roof suffered serious damage during a windstorm that moved through the area around Sept. 2, although the damage itself was not discovered until several days later. A crosswind caused a large section of the roof over the wood floor gymnasium and a section of the roof over the cafeteria to detach from the roof bed.

While both sections of roof remain in place and the building is not experiencing any rain infiltration, both sections of roof have been weighed down.

Graves said another strong wind storm could cause more significant damage with the roof in its current state.

There was a discrepancy in the two submitted quotes for the work, Graves said, and if the board approved the emergency he would award the work to the lowest quote. He said the work is expected to take between five to nine days to complete and come in at a cost of between $140,000 and $160,000.

The board declared an emergency maintenance situation so that school officials would not have to wait for bid publication and bid opening to lapse. With the declaration, repairs on the roof can begin immediately.

Personnel

The board approved the following personnel moves:

  • The new certified hires of Judy Gair, crossing guard at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary, $14, effective Aug. 19; Lorry Gykes, general food service worker at Mitchell Middle School, $12.75, effective Aug. 27; Conny Tschoepe, special education para at L.B. Williams Elementary, $11.26, effective Sept. 2; Maggie Ireland, general food service worker, $12.75, effective Sept. 1 and Cheryl Liddeke, paradeducator at L.B. Williams Elementary, $11.26, effective Sept. 9.

  • The resignations of April Rickel, paraeducator at L.B. Williams Elementary, effective Sept. 4 and Mary Pranger, paraeducator at L.B. Williams, effective Sept. 11.

  • The new Mitchell Tech hires of Tristan Sawyer-Kociemba, substation student worker less than 20 hours per week, $10.25, effective Sept. 14; Alexander Puglsey, substation student worker less than 20 hours per week, $10.25, effective Sept. 14 and Riley Whitley, substation student worker less than 20 hours per week, $10.25, effective Sept. 14

Other business

Also Monday, the board to:

  • Approved an update to the district and Mitchell Tech sexual harassment policies in order to bring them into line with federal policies.

  • Approved a resolution for general obligation certificates and approved a state aid pledge agreement to refinance the Performing Arts Center debt obligations. Due to current low interest rates, the move is expected to save the district around $1.1 million.

  • Heard a presentation by Luke Hagen of Mitchell Main Street & Beyond and Karen Pooley of the Carnegie Resource Center. The groups made a donation of $1,000 to the district through the sale of caramel apples during the Corn Palace Festival. The funds will be used to purchase hand sanitizer and other useful items for faculty in the district.

  • Recognized Julie Olson, National Geographic Grosvenor Fellowship Winner and Profile Grant Writer.

  • Heard board member and superintendent reports.

  • Heard public commentary.

  • Heard a presentation by Jodi Reiners and Joe Childs on The Caring Closet.

The next meeting of the board of education is scheduled for Oct. 12.