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‘Drag all of us out’

Mask issue halts School Board meeting

Buckingham County’s newly-passed medical freedom resolution recently came into question following the shutdown of a county School Board meeting where citizens exclaimed they’d have to be dragged out for not complying with a facemask policy.

In September, the Buckingham Board of Supervisors (BOS), per the request of the Powhatan Board of Supervisors, adopted a medical freedom resolution surrounding the mandating of medical treatment, specifically vaccination and masking, in the county.

At the time of its adoption, the exact purpose of the resolution and any consequences of the motion were uncertain.

​​Clauses of the resolution state that “every individual enjoys the constitutional right to refuse medical treatment on the grounds that it is contrary to his or her religious belief” and that “certain actions of government officials of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States that purport to impose or threaten future imposition of mandates on Virginians regarding vaccinations and the wearing of face masks unconstitutionally impinge on the constitutional rights of the people.”

The resolution calls upon the Virginia General Assembly to “amend the relevant statutes dealing with mandating medical treatment, and the delegation of that authority to the Executive Branch.”

In October, Buckingham County Administrator Karl Carter said he interprets the resolution as a call for local boards to seek legislative action to clarify actions of the Executive Branch.

Some residents appear to interpret the resolution as more.

During a Nov. 10 Buckingham School Board meeting, School Board Chair and District 7 Member Theresa Bryant notified unmasked members of the audience that they would need to don a facemask or remove themselves from the meeting. A woman in the audience proceeded to say she did not need to wear a mask per the new resolution.

“The BOS on Sept. 12 at the meeting passed a medical freedom resolution for the County of Buckingham that states we do not have to wear masks and we do not have to follow the shot mandate,” the woman stated.

“This is Buckingham County Public Schools, and we are mandated by the governor of Virginia,” Bryant replied.

Discussions became heated as some audience members continued to argue over the School Board’s mask policy, while some Board members pointed out a sign outside the door of the meeting stating masks were required.

The Board briefly moved into closed session. When the meeting was reopened, Bryant once again warned audience members that they could put a mask on or leave.

“Sorry, but our BOS stated we don’t,” a resident responded.

As a few audience members began to grow more upset and insist they would not leave the meeting, District 6 School Board Member Thomas Hutcherson Jr. could be heard asking a staff member if they wanted to go get a police officer.

When a law officer was instructed to remove the unmasked audience members, the room became more agitated.

“Don’t touch me,” one woman said. “You are going to have to drag all of us out, literally drag all of us out.”

“Dragging is not a good sign though, guys,” another member of the audience stated. “That’s not a good look.”

Appearing to be at a stalemate, the Board made the decision to shut down the meeting.

Some School Board members and even citizens appeared disappointed at the outcome of the meeting.

Paul Anderson, creator of the Citizens for Better Buckingham Schools Facebook page, has in the past been outspoken about his thoughts on masking at school.

After the meeting, Anderson took to Facebook Live to say while he supported the choice to wear or not wear a mask, he was disappointed in the actions of both parties at the meeting.

“I’m right there with you with not wanting to wear a mask,” Anderson said. “Where I draw the line is when behaviour is made that causes conversation to be shut down; that causes work not to be able to be done to better this county and to better the school districts.”

Anderson pointed out a “Plan for Safe Return to In-Person Instruction” was on the agenda for the night’s meeting; a good time for the public to submit comments on the mask issue.

“But when you shut down a meeting where that topic is up for conversation during public comment, we can make no gains.”

Anderson added other programs were unable to occur due to the meeting’s abrupt end, including a presentation by several primary school children, one of which was Anderson’s own child.

He also said the board should have had a plan in place for incidents such as what happened that night.

District 5 School Board member Sherry Ragland said she was saddened by the events of the Nov. 10 meeting.

“I’m sad that as a society, people cannot treat others with respect and dignity,” Ragland stated. “We expect that from our children, but as adults, we are missing the mark. The days of discussion are gone and have turned into arguments trying to see who is right and not what is right. Everything should be done in the best interest of all the children, with the information and resources provided.”

District 4 School Board Member Joii Goodman said the focus needs to be on the children.

“We have been blessed by our creator to live in a country where freedom is at the core of who we are,” Goodman said. “What makes us great is that this freedom is extended to all no matter your race, color, creed or philosophical views. Any meeting where people demonstrate a contempt to order or the process by which we govern should be questioned. Our focus should continue to be on our children in order to ensure their future.

“I will continue to stand up and speak out against anything to the contrary,” he continued. “Now is the time to get the emphasis back on educating our future citizens of this great commonwealth.”

As for the resolution, according to Virginia Coalition for Open Government Executive Director Megan Rhyne, whether or not a board of supervisors has adopted a resolution doesn’t mean that resolution applies to the school board, or vice versa.

On Wednesday, Nov. 17, Rhyne said while some entities may choose to interpret and apply resolutions akin to law, they do not have the force of law like an ordinance.

“Sometimes resolutions are symbolic, sometimes they carry policy preferences, sometimes they are merely on-the-record statements,” she noted.

Rhyne said the final paragraph of the resolution’s language is what represents the actual call to action.

“NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED,” the paragraph states, “that the Board of Supervisors … calls upon the General Assembly to amend the relevant statutes dealing with mandating medical treatment by establishing a clear and limiting delegation of authority to those in the Executive Branch …”

“The reason for the resolution’s call for the General Assembly to act is to protect medical freedom,” Rhyne said, “but in my opinion, the resolution itself doesn’t establish or impact a right of medical freedom one way or another.”

The School Board continued its meeting Nov. 15 where students were able to give their presentation.