GARDNER, Kan. (AP) — A suburban Kansas school board that has been roiled by disagreements over COVID-19 protocols and other issues is dealing with its fourth resignation in a year after a member said she was harassed and threatened while she ate dinner at a restaurant last weekend.
Kristen Schultz resigned on Monday from the Gardner Edgerton school board because she said the board declined to publicly support her after she told them that she and fellow board member Katie Williams were yelled at and videotaped by other diners, with one person telling her she should leave town, The Kansas City Star reported.
Schultz and Williams, who are Democrats, said they recognized the three people confronting them as residents who had protested mask mandates at school board meetings and supported conservative candidates in the election.
It was the culmination of two years of threats — including a text shared with The Star that read “kill yourself” — that became so intense she was escorted to her car twice after board meetings, Schultz said.
Schultz said she didn’t resign because of the threats but because of the board’s refusal to publicly rebuke those who confronted her and Williams.
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“It was a light bulb moment for me when I realized it doesn’t matter how low people go, this particular board has no interest in upholding integrity and character,” she said, adding that the mental and emotional toll was “no longer worth it.”
Nationally, a growing number of school board members are resigning or questioning their willingness to serve as meetings have devolved into shouting contests between deeply political constituencies over how racial issues are taught and COVID-19 protocols.
Like many school boards across the country, the Gardner Edgerton board has faced public hostility over COVID-19 mandates, LGBTQ books and the curriculum that deals with race.
During mask protests, two board members, Shawn Carlisle and Tresa Boden, walked out of a meeting and then resigned, saying they were frustrated with people on all sides of the issue.
Second-term member Robin Stout resigned from the board in January, after members traded accusations and violated board policy during its first meeting. Williams is now the only liberal on the board, which is expected to discuss appointing two new members at its meeting on Monday.
Four conservative members who campaigned on ousting the district’s superintendent over her leadership during the pandemic were elected in November, taking over as a majority on the seven-member board for a district of about 6,200 students.
The superintendent, Pam Stranathan, resigned after the election, with a $425,000 severance package.
Greg Chapman and Tom Reddin, two board members who were elected in November, said they do not condone harassment but they didn’t think the board should publicly comment because members hadn’t heard all sides of the confrontation.
Three members who were elected in November said despite the rocky start, they think the board is progressing, noting members worked together to appoint an interim superintendent and are engaging the community in a search for a permanent leader.
“I just think there’s still some inner turmoil and some bumpy roads ahead as far as the board figuring out how to do this the right way, rather than with secret agendas and all that,” Chapman said.
Chapman said the board has received more than a dozen applications for the open seats.
“I am a medical student so for me its generally keeping myself safe from any pathogen. It doesn’t have to be COVID,” said Drea Gonzalez, 26, a public health student at the University of Pennsylvania.
A few blocks down at a CVS Pharmacy, employees were wearing masks as required, as were most customers. But those who didn’t have masks on said they felt the policy change made sense.
“Saturday couldn’t have come quick enough really,” said Bob White, a 76-year-old lobbyist who lives in Dorchester. “We’ve had a mask on for a couple of years. I think everything being in order, it’s good for the public to be behind us. When we got here yesterday, we had masks on going to dinner last night and when we got up this morning, we were going to burn our masks. But we didn’t.”
The masking requirement also has been lifted at many city buildings, including for city workers, except those where vulnerable populations are served. The city still recommends masking for people at high risk of becoming sick.
“While masks are no longer mandated in certain indoor settings, the Boston Public Health Commission recommends masking in these settings if you are at high risk for severe illness or if you will be around individuals who are,” the board said.
Also, individual businesses and other venues can continue to require masks for their customers.
The lifting of the mask mandate comes about two weeks after the city ended its proof-of-vaccination requirement for restaurants, gyms, entertainment venues and some other businesses.
Masks are still required on public transportation, in health care and congregate living facilities, and in the city’s public schools. The health board has scheduled a meeting March 9 to discuss school masking policy.