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Three school district members were ousted from their positions on a Washington state school board after they defied a statewide COVID mask mandate last year.
Board members Semi Bird, Kari Williams, and Audra Byrd were recalled from their positions on the Richland School District board in southern Washington with 54% of the vote against them in an August 1 election.
The recall effort was sparked by the school board’s February 2022 vote to make face masks optional for students in the Richland district in defiance of Democratic Governor Jay Inslee’s statewide mask mandate.
The three board members were accused of violating the state’s indoor mask mandate, Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act, and the school district’s policies.
Two of the three, Williams and Byrd, attended their final board meeting last week on Tuesday. Bird, who is now running for governor in Washington, skipped the meeting.
“I will continue to pray for our district and the students here, and I will do my best to serve in whatever ways I can on a smaller scale,” Byrd said in emotional farewell remarks at the meeting.
“I am a firm believer in the power of the election process and in the voice of the people. Although I will admit I was a little heartbroken for the election results, I love that we have a country where people have the power to vote and stand up for what they believe in,” she said.
Byrd exited to applause from a group who had showed up at the board meeting to support her.
Williams’ seat is up for re-election this year, so she may be able to run again and win her seat back.
“I’m just grateful to this great community and this great district, and eager to return in November,” Williams said at the last meeting.
Meanwhile, Bird, who is running for governor in Washington as a Republican in 2024, said the recall was “never about just a mask mandate,” which he emphasized was “not a law.”
“It was a combination of change and accountability that we brought forward that the progressives within our district did not like,” Bird told Fox News on Sunday. “With the support of the teachers union and other progressive advocacy groups, they brought tens of thousands of dollars to a school board recall during an off-year primary where we had our supporters come out in numbers and support us, but the masses of conservatives who are our voter base did not turn out.”
Bird served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was the first black candidate ever elected to the Richland school district’s board.
“I will fight every day to get us back to human decency, because that’s what Dr. King fought for, the soul of America,” Bird said, adding that he prays Americans “come together and say, ‘stop it.’ Let’s protect our kids.”
After the pandemic pitted parents and schools against each other over everything from pandemic restrictions to learning loss to gender identity, a wave of frustrated parents decided to run for school boards themselves.
Conservatives flipped at least nine school boards in at least six states — Michigan, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey, and Florida — giving them conservative majorities, according to two parental rights groups who endorsed many of the victorious candidates.