MITCHELL, S.D. — One person was escorted out of the Mitchell Board of Education Monday night, Sept. 14, 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 with about 20 people in attendance at the meeting.
The man was identified as Reed Bender by Mitchell School District Superintendent Joe Graves. 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, who 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.
One officer drew a stun gun while Bender resisted, but did not use it. The two officers then escorted Bender out of the meeting.
Graves told Forum News Service 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. Gibson said the suspect was not arrested and was escorted off school premises.
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% 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.