Three Richland School Board members are facing a recall campaign led by four voters who accuse them of violating state law and multiple district ethics and policies when they voted in February to make masks optional.
The recall group has accused Semi Bird, Audra Byrd and Kari Williams of exceeding their power as local elected officials with that vote.
Petitions filed this week with the Benton County Auditor’s Office by Brian Brendel, Michael Lawrence, Bradley Rew and Tony Peurrung accuse the trio of alleged malfeasance and misfeasance. The recall group says the three board members damaged the district’s reputation and finances with their votes and need to be held accountable.
If a Superior Court judge determines the charges against the board members meet the legal standing for a recall vote, the petitioners can move forward with signature gathering. They need to collect 25% of the total votes cast in each of the school board members’ last election. That is expected to be at least 5,000 signatures each but could vary slightly, Brendel told the Tri-City Herald.
Bird and Byrd were elected last November and Williams in November 2019.
According to meeting reports, Byrd led the charge to defy the state’s mask mandate for students. Although Bird and Williams had previously opposed the idea, they ended up voting in favor on Feb. 15. The meeting where that action took place had been scheduled to talk about a resolution on the COVID-19 vaccine process.
Richland joined Kittitas, Kettle Falls and Colville school districts in making masks optional before Gov. Jay Inslee removed the mandate in March. All four districts ended up reversing those decisions within days after being threatened with a loss of state funding if they did not comply.
Richland, with more than 13,000 students, was the largest district in the state to declare masks optional.
The fallout from that decision has culminated in the recall movement. If enough signatures are gathered to take the decision about removing school board members to the electorate, a simple majority vote will carry the day.
According to the petition, 10 charges are being leveled against Byrd and Williams. Bird faces an additional charge for deleting comments and blocking people on his public-facing Facebook page. He used the page for campaigning but then opened it to interactions with the public about district business.
Bird, Byrd and Williams have been accused of violating their responsibilities to follow state law, including failure to reverse their decision at a special meeting on Feb. 16, which resulted in the closure of schools that led to a loss of state funding that day. The board took action to restore the mask mandate the next day.
Other charges leveled by the recall group deal with alleged violations of local codes.
This article was originally posted on Richland school board trio face recall effort over mask removal