‘You’re going to have to drag me out’: Tense moments in South Dakota school board meeting when man refuses mask

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A South Dakota school board meeting was interrupted by tense moments when police forcibly escorted out a father of two who refused to wear a face mask.

Video from the school board meeting in Mitchell showed the incident as it unfolded Monday evening, with police arriving, asking Reed Bender to follow the school district mask mandate and then, when he refused, struggling to remove him.

Ahead of the meeting which was held inside the Mitchell High School library, the fewer than two dozen attendees were reminded that masks were available for anyone who did not have one. Students, teachers, staff and parents as well as anyone else on school property are required by the Mitchell School District to wear a protective face mask due to the coronavirus.

But when Bender, who sat socially distant from others in the room, did not comply, school officials apparently called the police.

Two officers seen in the video approached the front of the room where the 39-year-old was seated alone and asked him to leave, which he refused to do.

“I know you don’t want to do it, but unfortunately, you have to follow these fools’ rules, right?” Bender said.

“If it’s part of their policy that you have to wear a mask while you are here, then you’ve got to wear a mask,” one of the officers said, referring to the mask mandate in place since July.

“Force me out. You’re going to have to drag me out,” Bender calmly told the officer who did not appear to like the idea.

“This is what you are doing. You are sowing discord in our communities at every level. It’s disgusting,” Bender said, apparently addressing the school board sitting outside the view of the camera and reiterating that the officers will have to force him out.

The two officers then attempted to pull Bender out of his chair as a struggle ensued and a woman could be heard saying, “this is absurd. This is an embarrassment to our school.”

“It ain’t worth all that, brother,” another man could be heard in the video.

“You’ll to have to tase me in front of all of these people,” Bender said as one officer pulled out his taser when he grabbed his uniform.

“I really don’t want to tase you,” the officer said.

One woman in attendance came to Bender’s defense.

“He just wants to have a say in what’s going on. We pay school taxes,” she said. “This is an embarrassment and we all should be embarrassed.”

Some of the others in the room were visibly angry, as the woman who had been vocally condemning the move again said it was an “embarrassment” as she stormed out of her seat. She berated the school board for putting the football team and other groups at the school “on a pedestal” by allowing huddles and close gatherings but calling police on a parent.

Another man, seated and wearing a mask, noted that Bender had been “sitting at the front, the furthest away from anybody else in here.”

Bender was eventually escorted out of the building and police said he was not arrested or charged, according to the Argus Leader which also reported that in the Mitchell School District, four students and one administrator have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of this school year.

“The board passed a mask mandate, and it applies to everyone,” Mitchell Superintendent Joseph Graves said. “If you make an exception without a cause, like a medical issue, then the mandate no longer exists and individuals who don’t wear the mask and have the virus can transmit it to others. … Then the whole point of the mandate is gone.”

“We had a 3’ sign in front of the entry doors which read ‘Mask Required,’ that he was notified repeatedly by the board president that he needed a mask, that he was offered a new, paper mask but declined it, and that he had sufficient time to leave the meeting, find a mask, and return well before the public commentary at which he wished to present arrived,” Graves said in an email.

In a Facebook post, Bender’s wife Teri Bender shared her support for her husband and for “maskers and non-maskers” alike, according to the Daily Mail.

“This man has saved me in so many ways and has stood by me through things most people can’t make it through… we got this,” she wrote.

“I feel for my ‘masker and non-masker’ friends and family. I do want to point out that not all Democrats are ‘maskers’ there are some that are ‘non-maskers’ I also want to point out that not all Republicans are ‘non-maskers’ there are some that are ‘maskers,'” she said.

“People’s beliefs of what’s right and what’s wrong are viewed differently. And that’s ok. I love YOU for who YOU are and I’m not going to ever judge you on what you believe in,” Bender added.

Frieda Powers

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