WATERTOWN — Watertown Unified School District President Tony Arnett paused for several moments and looked as if he might be praying.
One could hardly be surprised if he was. Even the most ardent agnostic might have sought divine guidance if they had been in Arnett’s position Monday, as he was asked to break a contentious deadlock at a monthly meeting of the district’s board of education.
Arnett found himself in the unenviable position of having to cast the deciding vote on whether the WUSD should more strictly enforce the wearing of face coverings at its school board meetings.
After a lengthy moment of deep contemplation, with the vote at 4-4, Arnett cast his ballot. His action left the mask-wearing situation in the district unchanged. In effect, masks are strongly suggested at board meetings, but their use is left up to the individual.
“The governor’s mask mandate has a specific exception for meetings such as board meetings,” Arnett said in an interview following the session. “I do not believe we should go beyond the governor’s mandate on this.”
Arnett said that he didn’t have any concerns about potential lawsuits if the district would have gone beyond the governor’s mandate. A lawyer for the WUSD had advised its officials that it would be permissible, legally, to keep unmasked people from attending meetings of the board.
Arnett had facilitated a board discussion Monday on the use of face coverings in public meetings. After the discussion — some of it impassioned and heated — it was moved by Jennifer Bakke, and seconded by Frances Milburn, that a resolution requiring all people attending public meetings of the board to adhere to, “approved COVID protocols.”
The resolution failed by a 4-5 roll call vote, with David Smith, Paul Van Den Langenberg, Doug Will, Steve Kauffeld and Arnett in opposition. Voting in favor were Bakke, Milburn, Fred Jandt and Adam Bainbridge.
The board was so divided on the matter that it had difficulty agreeing on what “approved COVID protocols” even are.
With Bakke driving the failed resolution, using arguments even she admitted were perhaps not strong enough, Kauffeld came to the session armed and ready to defend his stance that the COVID-19 pandemic is nothing more than what he called, the “plandemic.”
He said there are many medical experts and scientists, worldwide, who have stated that face coverings are not an effective way of stopping the virus.
Kauffeld has not worn a mask to any WUSD meeting that the Daily Times has covered and was not wearing one at Monday night’s session. He has been the only member of the board not to do so. Three members of the public attended Monday’s session and none of them wore a face covering.
In making his argument against people being required to wear masks to public meetings of the board of education prior to the vote, Kauffeld cited the U.S. Constitution and quoted everyone from American patriots, such as George Washington, to Henry David Thoreau.
Kauffeld said he realized the matter of face coverings at public meetings of the board was being brought up because of his refusal to wear one.
Referring to some of the great orators of U.S. history, Kauffeld said he believes that the best government is one that governs the least and added that “the remedy” in the masking matter before the board was, “worse than the evil.”
He noted the civil disobedience of Jesus Christ in his argument. He also called arguments for protections in the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as its coverage by what he said is a left-leaning international news media, “a circumspect narrative” and an “Orwellian scenario.” Kauffeld said, as an elected official, it is his duty to protect freedoms of the people.
Kauffeld added he has seen people attending meetings of Dodge County and Jefferson County governments unmasked. He said those governments do not enforce masking requirements.
Milburn said she feared that if the board did not tighten up rules regarding face coverings for board meetings, it could be deemed hypocritical, because students, teachers and others entering school buildings must wear masks.
“I fear we are presenting a double standard,” Milburn said. “It’s important that we, as a board, (abide) by the same standards as others.”
Jandt said, as a board member, he must support the policies of the panel. He said he refused to ignore rules already set forth by the district’s leaders and that the boardroom was part of the overall school district grounds and should be treated the same as other locations.
He said if board members do not follow the rules requiring masks in district facilities, they are setting a bad precedent.
“I admire Steve’s conviction, but this is a simple matter of rules and policy … As a board, we should follow the rules we set forth … Whether you believe in the mask situation or not, my job, as a board member, is to adhere to board rules and policies as set up by the district,” Jandt said. “I’d think that, as educators and adults, we’d follow the rules.
“We are an example for the district and if we can’t live up to that, we should be ashamed,” he concluded.