Washington school board member who defied mask mandates faces recall: ‘Vindictive move by progressives’

A Washington state school board member took a controversial stand against Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s mask mandate for the state’s public schools, faced lawsuits from naysayers and now, thanks to a state Supreme Court ruling from November, is one of three conservatives up against a recall effort.

Despite it all, Semi Bird, R., has his sights set something much bigger and is vying for Inslee’s seat in 2024.

“I have believed all along that this [recall effort] was a vindictive move by progressives within our community to unseat the only three conservative school board directors,” Bird told Fox News Digital. “I was the first ever African American to get elected to the school board in the history of our school board. They came after me with all the firepower that they could because they thought that I could pose a threat.”

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Bird told Fox News Digital that he and his fellow board members voted to make masks optional for students in classrooms across Washington’s Richland School District in February of last year.

He said the decision not only followed advice from the county health director who ensured him the area was not struggling with hospital occupancy and urged him to consider the mental health of students, but also stemmed from student complaints that masks interfered with their learning and hurt their mental wellbeing. 

“It [the mandate] was causing issues with students – mental illness, anxiety. I can go on and on. Suicide was at the highest rate that we’ve seen,” he said. “I made a motion because I wasn’t going to wait another minute for another child to take their life because of this mandate.”

He insisted that the state mask requirement was a COVID-era power grab used to influence schools and argued the Richland board’s decision to reverse Inslee’s course was, in his opinion, “the most equitable thing to do.”

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“It’s important for people to understand that the Washington State mask mandate was not a law, so a law was never passed to enforce this. It was a mandate that they were using emergency powers that the governor obtained by the legislature to influence schools not to do what we did,” he said.

The move to make masks optional spawned an Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) lawsuit later settled by the district.

The lawsuit alleged Bird had conspired with two other board members and thereby violated the act, but Bird maintains that much was not true.

“I did plan this with one other school board member, which is within my rights under the law, because that one other school board member was the one who was hesitant and resistant,” he said. 

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“I asked her simply, ‘What do you need to make this happen?’ She said, ‘I just need to know that we’re not going to impose more of a health threat. I need to know that the hospitals are not going to be overwhelmed if we do this’ and that meeting with the health director vetted that out, that there was no danger, and she said, ‘I’m with you.’”

He added that the other board member critics he had allegedly conspired with had previously been on-record advocating for mask choice, but the push fell through.

The Superior Court judge later decided that Bird and his fellow board members had not conspired but rather met legally to discuss the masking issue.

Remaining charges against the Richland board members then advanced to the Washington Supreme Court.

“Out of all the charges, I would say ten went up to the Supreme Court,” Bird said.

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“After months, they dropped all the charges except for three. All the ethics violations that the petitioners accused us of violating were all dropped. There were three charges all related around making the vote to give mask choice. They said we were not authorized to do it, which I beg to differ. Local control.

“They said that, on our agenda for that special meeting, that it didn’t say that we were going to take a vote, but on the agenda it said ‘Resolution 940: Local Control.’ We exercised our local control as elected officials,” he said.

Bird pointed to an earlier motion by the school board before he and fellow conservative member Audra Byrd were elected in which the board took action to close schools during a special meeting.

“Our agenda said ‘local control Resolution 940.’ Their agenda said ‘discussion on COVID 19′ and their action was to shut down schools, so they [those behind the lawsuit] are saying that we violated OPMA law because our agenda didn’t say enough, and the Supreme Court upheld it.

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“The other two charges were that we violated the mandate, which again, was not law, and that we took an action against our board policy that says we cannot take an action that runs counter to the law. And I say once again, it was a mandate and not a law,” he elaborated.

Bird said he and his fellow conservative board members have received hate mail, threats and “discriminatory” remarks from critics who, according to Bird, seek to “fix the mistake that was the election.”

“My response is this: that they’re doing this to unseat three duly elected school board members simply because we’re conservative, and they disagree with our positions… This’ll teach anybody else running for school board that they will be met with every challenge and that they need to know what they’re getting in for.”

Petitioners looking to recall Bird and fellow members Kari Williams and Audra Byrd over their masking decision are seeking enough signatures to meet the over-5,000 threshold needed for each candidate.

Bird, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, announced his bid for the governorship at a Veterans Day event last year.

If elected, he would become the state’s first Black governor and its first Republican to hold the office since 1981. The blue state has not voted for a Republican for president since 1984.


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