Several ejected from Holmen School Board meeting for refusing to wear masks

Some parents resist policy, but one notes that masks are not a matter of rights but rather, 'public health responsibility'

HOLMEN, Wis. (WKBT) — Emotions ran so raw during the Holmen School Board’s discussion of its mandatory mask policy for younger students Monday night that a police officer ejected several parents from the meeting for refusing to wear masks, as the board had directed.

Board Chairwoman Cheryl Hancock directed Holmen Police Officer Terry Kind to remove the parents, including several who had voiced objections to masking, because they refused to don their masks again after speaking. One woman, who had not spoken, tossed her mask into the air and encouraged others to do so before she, too, was ushered from the room, after pulling her arm away from Kind.

The rebellious parents noted that school board members had not worn masks during their previous meeting, although they did Monday night because of health guidelines that have come out since.

At issue was the district’s COVID-19 policy requiring masks for pre-K through sixth-grade students and optional, although encouraged, masking for seventh through 12th grades.

Several speakers noted that the “Pledge of Allegiance” at the beginning of the meeting invoked “liberty and justice for all” and said it should be individual choice rather than government mandate.

Countering that argument was Amy Taebel, a clinical assistant professor in health professions at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, who said, “This is not a right, it (wearing masks) is a responsibility to public health.”

Among those addressing the board were brothers Tobias and Titus Neumann and their dad, Josh.

Tobias said he has asthma but had not needed to use his inhaler for about four years, until he was required to wear a mask and now needs it twice a day.

Titus, who thanked the board for making masks optional for high school students, cited the social aspect of going maskless. Bare faces allow students to see classmates’ and teachers’ emotions, which he said also helps learning.

Everyone who wants a vaccine against COVID-19 has had a chance to get one, he said, so those who don’t want to wear masks should be free to do so.

Josh said the United States was founded on liberty, as noted in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The “school board belongs to the people,” Josh said, citing that as the district’s motto as he encouraged the board to lift the mask mandate.

“This is not going to go away,” he said.

A woman disputed the suggestion that not wearing a mask is selfish because the masks cause rashes, staph, and headaches. Claiming that only 335 children nationwide have died from COVID-19, she said that is less than 500 who die from the common cold.

“I am not negating” those deaths, she said, adding that the pandemic has caused greater problems with depression, anxiety disorders, suicides, and opioid use among youths.

Later during the meeting, when board members made their own comments on the issue, board member Gary Dunlap said he didn’t agree with the requirement that members of the general public wear masks at the meeting. He described it as “vindictive,” with little advance notice to the public, although Hancock noted that the board provided masks.

Despite reports that few children contract the disease and those who do aren’t as sick, Dunlap said, they still can transmit COVID-19 to their families.

Dunlap also cited a statistic that 40,000 children nationwide have lost a parent to COVID-19.

“If it were up to me, I would have vaccination mandatory in the high schools,” he said, adding that people who don’t want to wear masks should get vaccinated to lessen the peril.

Chad Updike insisted that studies have found masks to be perilous and objected to “forcing people to get unproved medical treatment.”

“This community is fed up,” he said.

Tony Loecke listed several public events — school registration, Kornfest in Holmen, Ashley for the Arts in Arcadia — where hundreds or thousands of people gathered without wearing masks, as well as smaller crowds in grocery stores, department stores, and other everyday activities.

“A student has a better chance of being executed within walking distance of this building by a gang than dying by COVID,” Loecke said.

Connie Swieter said she and her husband have lived in Holmen for 16 years and have a 20-year-old daughter who graduated from Holmen High School as well as children ages 9, 7, and 4 years of age.

Sensing that masks for those ages would be mandatory, she said, “We pulled them from this district and put them in a private school. It broke our heart.”

“I’m begging you from parents” who object to the policy to change it, Swieter said.

Toward the end of the meeting, Hancock said that, despite the umbrage parents voiced during the session, the district has received more positive feedback than negative.

Some even said the district didn’t go far enough, Hancock said.

Recent Headlines from News 8 Now
The West Salem man convicted of killing his wife wants a new trial 
Department of Defense releases pictures of Fort McCoy as the Monroe County military installation is housing Afghan refugees 
Evers launches $100 vaccine reward program in Wisconsin 
Deputy: Black River Falls man dies by suicide during traffic stop