Mask opposition continues at latest school board meeting

District patrons again speak out against mandate

Sonja VanErdewyk addresses the Mitchell Board of Education during the Wednesday meeting of the board. Several people spoke against the district mask mandate during the public commentary portion of the meeting. (Erik Kaufman / Republic)

Opposition to the district-wide mask mandate, which requires anyone on school district property to wear a face mask, continued at the latest meeting of the Mitchell Board of Education meeting Wednesday evening at the Corn Palace.

About a dozen members of the public addressed the board concerning the mandate, which is an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19. Every member of the public who spoke on the matter in the public commentary section of the meeting spoke against the mandate, with nobody speaking in favor of the requirement.

Those speaking on the matter related their concerns about the mandate, which ranged from issues of personal liberty, the rights of parents to determine what is best for their own children, the lack of a district-wide survey seeking the opinion of parents about the mandate and scientific information that showed that masks are not only no effective in the fight against the disease, but can cause medical issues on their own, such as rashes and other ailments.

Debbie Emme, one of the members of the audience to address the board, said she her daughter had been threatened for not wearing a mask.

"My daughter has been threatened because she doesn’t wear a mask outside school. I know another kid that has been bullied, because us parents stand up for their rights. Apparently you’re not teaching civics very well, are you?" Emme asked the board.


Jessica Steidel, another member of the public who spoke in opposition to the masks, said the board is not listening to the wishes and opinions of their constituents.

“What do the constituents want? Is it the right choice? Is masking the right choice? We don’t know. But each of you is given a job to listen and hear that voice and not sit on the board and push your opinion on all of us,” Steidl said.

The Wednesday meeting of the board of education was moved from district property, where meetings are held on a rotating basis every month at various buildings, to the city-owned Corn Palace in order to accommodate those who wished to attend the board meeting but did not want to wear masks while social distancing could still be observed.

The move comes after the September board meeting, which was held at the high school library, where Reed Bender was escorted from the meeting for refusing to wear a mask. A grand jury later indicted Bender on a Class 1 misdemeanor of obstructing a law enforcement officer after he was asked at that meeting by two officers from the Mitchell Police Division to leave the premises. A warrant was issued for his arrest Oct. 9.

The board took no action on its mask policy at the meeting.

District goals

The Mitchell Board of Education Wednesday approved a number of district goals for the 2020-21 school year at their most recent meeting at the Corn Palace.

The goals listed with the board agenda covered a number of different areas, including student achievement goals, developing and implementing a district-wide professional development plan and an update on the five-year district facilities plan.


The five-year district facilities included the areas of textbooks, transportation, buildings and grounds, extracurricular needs, building-level needs and technology. Part of that five-year plan includes growing the capital outlay fund balance to address the construction of a new Mitchell High School building. Under that five-year plan, district officials expect to increase the capital outlay fund to:

  • $2,750,000 by June 30, 2021

  • $3,500,000 by June 30, 2022

  • $4,500,000 by June 30, 2023

  • $5,500,000 by June 30, 2024

  • $6,500,000 by June 30, 2025

The district also wants to maintain the current strong financial condition of district finances by building the general fund cash reserve at or above 25% of total expenditures as well as forego use of the opt-out levying authority for the 2021 school year.
Along with the various five-year plans, the outlined district goals include the areas of technology, lunch program and program level goals at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary, L.B. Williams Elementary, Longfellow Elementary, Mitchell Middle School and Mitchell High School.

The board approved the district goals on unanimous vote.


The board approved the following personnel moves:

  • The classified hires of Christian Licea, general food service worker, $12.75 per hour, 5.5 hours daily, effective Sept. 16; Patricia Kelly, special education paraeducator, 5.5 hours weekly, $13.42, effective Sept. 19; Sara Tackett, general food service worker at Mitchell High School, $12, effective Sept. 22; Lisa Bruch, general food service worker at Mitchell High School, $13.25, effective Sept. 28; Kaitlyn Huska, assistant speech/debate coach, $2,207, effective 2020-21 school year, Denise Baysinger, administrative assistant at L.B. Williams, $14.50, effective Oct. 26 and Sarah Bartunek, paradeduator at L.B. Williams, seven hours daily, $11.26, effective Oct. 13.

  • The resignation of Rowan Byrd, paraeducator at L.B. Williams, effective Oct. 7.

  • The Mitchell Tech new hires of Kasey Thomas, Rad Tech clinical adjunct instructor (Fall 2020), $3,650, effective Aug. 25; Ellie Overweg, off-campus work study, $10.75, effective Oct. 8; Katie McDonnell, off-campus work study, $10.75, effective Oct. 8 and Abigail Kesteloot, off-campus work study, $10.75, effective Oct. 8.

Other business

Also at the meeting, the board:

  • Received an update on the Higher Learning Commission Accreditation Visit.

  • Adopted a new board K-12 policy 105: Title I Programming and Comparability Procedures on first reading.

  • Appointed Matthew Christiansen to the Associated School Boards of South Dakota Delegate Assembly and discussed ASBSD standing positions and proposed legislative resolutions.

  • Recognized the Mitchell High School girls tennis team state tournament champions.

  • Recognized the Mitchell School District Art Department and Blue Ribbon Winners at the State Fair Art Competition.

  • Heard board member and superintendent reports.

  • Heard public commentary.

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at
What To Read Next
Get Local