SHERIDAN — The Sheridan County School District 2 Board of Trustees responded to calls for board members to either voluntarily resign or be recalled, with board members unanimously approving a motion at their regular meeting Monday to reject petitions filed by a concerned group of citizens.
Free Our Faces, which opposes the school district’s mask requirement, presented the board with two different signed petitions at its Sept. 13 meeting. Tiffany Leimback, one of the co-founders of the group, said the petitions contained about 200 signatures seeking the voluntary resignation of board members or for their recall.
At the time, SCSD2 board Chair Susan Wilson accepted the petitions without further comment.
According to Wyoming State Statute, a school board is required to consider any petition presented to it that includes signatures of at least five residents of the district and take action within 30 days after the petition is received, unless “the precise question presented by the petition has been considered and acted upon” by the school board at a meeting within that fiscal year.
That consideration came Monday night.
Trustee Ed Fessler said he continues to support the board’s decision, approved just the day prior to the start of the 2021-22 school year, to require students, staff and visitors to wear a protective face covering while in district facilities, considering the recommendation by local health officials to do so.
“The action we took, I feel strongly we took the right action,” Fessler said. “All we want to do is provide the safest environment for our staff, our students and their families, and the community.”
Fessler said he was upset by rumors that there was a conspiracy behind the board’s actions, adding the Friday before the Aug. 30 vote, SCSD2 officials were notified Sheridan County was a “red zone” due to the high number of COVID-19 cases being reported.
“We didn’t want to see the district become a petri dish for this,” he added. “No one is wild about the masks, but we have to listen to the science. We don’t want to see more deaths in this community.”
According to Fessler, the number of signatures on the petitions fell far short of making a compelling argument for board members to resign, with that number being more than balanced by phone calls and emails district officials have received supporting the mask requirement.
“I want it to be very clearly stated. Your numbers don’t warrant our resignation,” he said.
Fessler wasn’t alone in stating the belief the board acted in the best interests of students and the community. Trustees Dana Wyatt and Mary Beth Evers also voiced support for the decision.
“They worked last year and our kids stayed in school, Evers said. “I stand behind what we’ve done.
In presenting an update on the district’s COVID-19 plan, SCSD2 Superintendent Scott Stults said 73 students were currently quarantined or participating in remote learning due to testing positive for COVID-19 or reporting a close contact, representing 2% of the district’s student population.
Stults compared that to other districts that have closed schools, which didn’t impose mask requirements fast enough or at all, due to rates of 30% or higher.
“School is the best place for kids,” he said. “Our kids are in school.”
While the board voted against the Free Our Faces petitions Monday night, Leimback presented Wilson with another 14 pages of signatures prior to the board’s action.