New Wichita School Board Members Refuse to Wear Masks, Swearing In Suspended as a Result

A Wichita, Kansas, school board meeting was canceled Monday when three new members who were supposed to be sworn in refused to wear face masks.

Wichita Public Schools requires anyone over the age of 3 to wear masks indoors, the Wichita Eagle reported. As the meeting was supposed to begin, School Board President Stan Reeser said he wanted to hold board members to the same standard.

"This district cannot vote on directives, policies and protocols that we expect students, staff and visitors to abide by, all the while exempting BOE members," Reeser said. "This is a message we cannot send."

New board members Diane Albert, Kathy Bond and Hazel Stabler, as well as some audience members, refused to put masks on, prompting Reeser to cancel the meeting before it even began.

According to the Eagle, the three newcomers unseated incumbent board members in November at the suggestion of the Sedgwick County Republican Party. The party recruited them to run so they could address issues like mask mandates, vaccination requirements and critical race theory.

In Topeka, the state's capital, despite Shawnee County health officer Erin Locke's efforts to set a mask mandate at what she called a "critical moment in the pandemic," commissioners decided against it.

"I'm not convinced that masks are the answer to our problem," Commissioner Aaron Mays said.

face masks, COVID-19
Three new Wichita school board members' swearing in was delayed due to their refusal to wear face masks. Above, a pile of blue face masks. Stock Image/Getty Images

Some elective surgeries have been canceled due to the surge, and businesses and schools are expected to see waves of employees, students and teachers becoming sick, Locke said.

In the Lawrence district, nearly 2,000 students have been absent from school each day since Thursday, said Superintendent Anthony Lewis on Monday during a school board meeting. Those students make up nearly one-fifth of the district's overall enrollment, the Lawrence Journal-World reports.

More than 100 teachers also have been absent during the same time period. More than 80 percent of those openings have been filled with substitutes. In the other classes, principles and guidance counselors have helped out.

"This is our current reality. This is where we are," said Lewis, who reported the information to the board remotely because he is in quarantine after testing positive for the virus.

University of Kansas Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer on Monday told faculty and staff members that classes will start "on time and in person," with the addition of a stricter mask policy for instructors.

One of the few examples of cracking down was at Haskell Indian Nations University, which announced this week that the first three weeks will take place entirely online, the Lawrence Journal-World reports.

Haskell plans to monitor the COVID-19 surge daily, and leadership will revisit the possibility of in-person courses during the first week of February.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

School Masks
The board president of the Wichita, Kansas, school district canceled the swearing in of three new board members because they refused to abide by the mask mandate unanimously voted in August of 2021. Above, elementary students wear masks while entering a school in Richardson, Texas, on August 17, 2021. LM Otero/AP Photo