Three Richland, Washington school board members who voted to make masks optional are facing a recall petition after a court ruled the effort to unseat them can proceed.
The petition is for a recall election of three school board members for voting in February to make masks optional before Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee’s (D) mask mandate expired on March 12. The school board members also allegedly violated the state’s Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) by discussing mask policy among themselves and voting on the issue, although it was not on the board’s published agenda.
The petitioners give valid reasons for a recall election, Benton County Superior Court Judge Norma Rodriguez ruled on May 12. Rodriguez, appointed in February by Inslee, found five of the charges met the state standards for recall, KEPR News reports. Others were dismissed. Rodriguez stated she could not rule on the truth of the charges, just that they were properly supported, MSN reports.
The three school board members—Audra Byrd, Semi Bird, and Kari William—will appeal Rodriguez’s decision, Jerry Moberg, their attorney, told KNDU News.
“My clients simply disagree with the conclusion of the trial judge and want to exercise their right to have the entire matter reviewed by the Washington State Supreme Court,” said Moberg. “This case highlights an important issue of the right of elected public officials to vote for what he or she believes is right and not have to face a recall action every time a vote is taken on a controversial issue,” said Moberg.
‘Will Scare Conservatives’
Byrd was elected in November 2021 running on a platform of unrestricted access to schools for children, parental choice, and traditional values, Heartland Daily News reported.
“We won so we thought we would all move on,” said Byrd. “This is the first time we have had a conservative majority on the school board. For the first time they (leftists) feel their agenda is threatened.”
Rather than moving on, the losing candidates, and their allies, have continued to battle. “If the recall goes through the remaining school board members are able to appoint replacement school board members,” Byrd said. “This will scare conservatives from ever running again.”
Petitioners Demand Criminal Charges
The recall effort is led by four Richland men. Three of the four petitioners do not currently have children in the Richland School District, KFLD reports.
One of the petitioners, Brian Brendel, demanded criminal charges against the three, in a statement at an April 12 school board meeting.
“We demand the school district consider pressing criminal charges as the entity most damaged here rather than endorse these rogue actions,” Brendel said. “Pressing charges, levers of check and balance to unaccountable board members, a class action lawsuit based on your willful malfeasance makes you personally liable for damages to the district and community. Damages hold a lifetime of financial hardship. … Resignation may be your best option.”
Byrd says she is continuing the work she started.
“I am thankful for the opportunity to serve on the Richland School Board,” Byrd said. “I am grateful to the community members who showed their faith in me by electing me to represent them and their wishes for their children’s education. I am committed to doing my best to advocate for families to have voice and choice in our schools.”
‘Pushing Personal Belief Agendas’
Richland schools were infused with progressive ideology starting in the 1970s, writes John McKay, host of a local talk radio show on KFLD.
“The recall effort being mounted against three Richland School Board members is not that unusual if you consider some of the more ‘interesting’ events in RSD history,” wrote McKay. “This school board recall is just the latest example of the long history of progressive ideas that have bubbled under the surface for decades in Richland.”
District policies and school curricula need reform, says Byrd.
“I want our focus to be grounded in improving literacy and mathematical skills, while providing educational options that best fit the needs of each individual student,” Byrd said. “I am working hard to help re-write outdated policies that will improve our school environments, hold staff accountable to not pushing personal belief agendas, and provide an uplifting environment for all staff, students, and parents to be involved in.”
In addition to the recall, the school board faced a lawsuit. Arthur West, a Seattle open-meetings activist, filed a lawsuit alleging the Richland school board violated OPMA, KEPR reports. The school district settled out of court, but did not admit there were any OPMA violations, KEPR reports.
The Washington State Supreme Court could rule on the three school board members’ appeal of Rodriguez’s decision in the next few weeks. If the recall goes forward, petitioners would have six months to collect 5,000 signatures before an election would be called.
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