A group of individuals against masking commandeered a discussion on Yankton School District’s (YSD) anti-bullying policy at Monday’s school board meeting, using the opportunity to berate board members for the current mask mandate.
The group’s objections were raised at a time when COVID cases are surging across the state. As of Monday, Yankton’s active COVID cases reached their highest level in more than a year. Also, for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic, all of South Dakota’s counties were rated with high community spread of the coronavirus.
The school board heard the scheduled comments from the public as part of its first review of proposed edits to the Yankton School District (YSD) Anti-Bullying/Harassment Policy and expects to vote on the updated document at its February meeting.
None of the complaints were directed at the proposed changes or the existing policy, except to accuse administrators and school board members of bullying parents and students with required masking.
The school board was accused of setting itself above the community and dictating terms with threats of retribution if those directives are not obeyed.
One person said she and her children were bullied for not wanting to mask, while another said his child is being denied, because of a speech delay, his right to a maskless education while the school district hosts athletic super-spreader events. A third person read from the Bible and compared school board members to the Pharisees of Jesus’ time.
Board members were repeatedly called bullies and were accused of being in violation of their own policy.
The tone throughout was combative and voices were, for the most part, raised. One woman told the board that, simply by wearing masks they were being bullies and that everyone in the room masking was also a bully. Another said masks are dirty and described soiled masks in detail, challenging the board to stop the mandate. One mother told the board that all teachers and students live in fear of retribution by administrators and board members, for not wanting to mask.
There were no comments from the school board on the masking complaints.
Returning to the original discussion, one board member did ask if the proposed anti-bullying changes were handed down by the state. YSD Curriculum Director Nicole Valnes said that they were.
Also at Monday’s meeting, Yankton Middle School (YMS) Principal Heather Olson told the board about the recent YMS dance.
“If you’ve never been to a YMS dance, you probably need to go because it’s the best two hours of your life,” Olson told the board. “I always invite you. We do have one in the spring. You’re always welcome.”
Olson also detailed changes to the YMS course catalog for the 2022-2023 school year, which the board approved.
Tony Beste, Lincoln Elementary School principal, told the school board about third graders putting together blankets and donating them to Pathways Shelter for the Homeless.
“I think it’s a good example of where our students’ hearts were at, just wanting to help others,” he said. “(That was) a really good that was student driven.”
Also student driven was the enthusiastic participation in Christmas Dress-Up Days, he said, which brought a fun and festive atmosphere to Lincoln school in the days leading up to Christmas.