The Tahlequah Public School Board of Education met Sept. 14 at the Tahlequah High School Performing Arts Center to accommodate the influx of protesters who came to denounce the recently approved masking mandate.

While the agenda did not include any items addressing the topic, between 30-40 community members showed up for the public comment section of the meeting, and left immediately thereafter.

Most of the commenters condemned the amendment for Policy 4428, which gives the district authority to establish guidelines and requirements for masks; that item was passed on Sept. 8. TPS offers parents the ability to opt their children out of the masking mandate for religious, personal, or health reasons.

Some of the protesters also demanded the resignation of Chrissi Nimmo, a TPS board member who has been vocal in her support of masking.

“Mrs. Nimmo’s post on social media, I found it to be alarming. She chooses to engage in foul language, calling out other parents of the school district by name and chooses to insult community members like we are inferior,” said Mandy Rozell.

Kristy Hodgson also commented on Nimmo’s conduct because she purportedly posted images of herself and her family without wearing masks in public spaces.

“I am fed up with the hypocrisy of many – not all – of the school board, administration, and staff. At sporting events, concerts, day on the lake, float trips, gym, golf tournaments, shopping, lemonade stands, and group selfies, that you post for the whole world to see – if that’s OK with no masks, then sitting in a classroom with no masks is OK,” Hodgson said.

Heather Ellis claimed her child was experiencing headaches last year due to a lack of oxygen caused by wearing a mask, but now that he hasn't been wearing one, he doesn't have headaches. She said she believes the board is overstepping its bounds.

“I met with parents who agree that the board overstepped their role. While I would like to place the blame on all of you, we take some responsibility for not being active earlier on,” she said.

Joe Keys called Nimmo a “disgrace” and said his son is now in counseling because he has to wear a mask.

“He’s going to school muzzled and he can’t breathe,” Keys said.

But Dr. David Gann, physician for Cherokee Nation, said science shouldn’t be debated in public.

“It’s been a tough 18 months. My staff has been knee-deep in COVID, working seven days a week. You don’t debate science in public,” he said.

He explained that many will read articles they find in public forums that disseminate false information. He said masking is a tool that works as a part of other measures, which have proved to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Lisa Pivec, senior director of the Cherokee Nation, reiterated Dr. Gann's remarks and explained that the purpose of masking is not to prevent COVID, but to keep it from spreading, and that the policy is effective.

“Our goal is not to keep COVID out of the school but to prevent an outbreak. Providing in-person schooling is of utmost importance,” she said.

Bree Long, human relations manager for Cherokee Elder Care and a Tahlequah City Council member, spoke about drop-off times, and requested the district extend those times to better serve families.

The board ultimately pivoted from public comment to address its agenda, which was largely routine.

The following appointments were approved: Vanessa Willard, deputy minutes clerk; Brittany Bloodworth, deputy board clerk; Sabrina Garner, encumbrance clerk; and Karen Arnell, deputy treasurer.

The surplus budget was approved, addressing various expenses throughout all the schools, ranging from computer equipment to furniture.

They approved the TPS modular building and a bid with Guard Tronic Inc. to upgrade sites from landline to cellular service.

The board decided to terminate an agreement with GO for Public Schools, which had been approved on Oct. 15, 2019.

“Under the current setup, the district solicits donations, which the district hasn’t had time to do. During the course, it was discovered we could do this without this company,” said TPS Board President Dana Eversole.

The board also approved the hiring of Marilee Bevilacqua, Maegen Wallace, Amysha Logue, Susan Overturf, Raymond Jones, Angel TeHee, Elenita Fisher, Anna Sobba, Faith Rahe, Sierra Demoss, Ciara Harris, Jade Adams, Leslie Dorr, Yanely ChaCha, Sherida Thatcher, Kandee Stopp, Diana Salinas, and Lauren Ketcher.

What's next

The TPS Board of Education will meet on Oct. 12 at 6 p.m. at the School Board. An announcement will be made later as to where the meeting will be held.

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