In multiple videos posted on social media, an officer informs Anderson that she is being asked to leave because she is not wearing a mask. Her son is also not wearing a mask, and other attendees seen in the video are unmasked.
Anderson had been approved and scheduled to speak that evening, but one officer tells her, “This is a privilege to speak, not a right.”
The videos also depict Katy ISD General Counsel Justin Graham addressing Anderson saying that she had come within three feet of district employees, and adds, “You’ve been given notice on three different times this evening that you didn’t put your mask on.”
Anderson replies, “That’s not true.”
Graham then tells Anderson she is criminally trespassing by not leaving and that “disruptions aren’t allowed.”
Eventually, Anderson is seen leaving the meeting room escorted by the four officers while her son and other attendees without masks remain.
“Most people in the room were not wearing masks, but I was the only one targeted for removal,” said Anderson.
Anderson is one of several parents who have filed a lawsuit against the district over the student mask policy. She is also a candidate for the board of trustees in the upcoming May 1, 2021 election.
Anderson told The Texan that she has spoken at multiple board meetings over the past few months, including at the previous week’s meeting on March 22, at which she and other parents did not wear masks. She also said she had a mask with her and was willing to put it on if she were near staff.
According to signs posted outside of the meeting room, attendees “must wear a mask when in proximity of others,” and Anderson says that prior to last week’s meeting they were not required to wear masks if they were social distancing and sitting only with household members.
On the day following the meeting, Graham emailed Anderson official notification of her ejection for refusal to “wear an appropriate face covering in accordance with Katy ISD’s COVID Mitigation Plan.”
Graham writes that Anderson had been warned at a previous meeting that “you are required to wear a mask on Katy ISD property.” Anderson disputes this characterization and says she was only warned once on March 29.
In an official ISD video recording of the public meeting that followed Anderson’s expulsion the first six speakers are seen approaching the podium and speaking to the board without masks.
In a statement to The Texan, the district said board meetings “are held in accordance with the modified Open Meetings Act issued by Governor Abbott’s executive order and TEA’s Public Health Planning Guidance. Attendees are required to maintain public meeting decorum noted in the Board’s printed agenda and made available to all patrons. The agenda states ‘masks must be worn when the CDC recommended three feet social distancing cannot be maintained.’ Patrons may attend Board meetings without a facial covering, as long as social distancing is adhered to.”
Regarding video taken of the encounter, the district provided the following:
“Unfortunately, the video clip in question depicts only a snapshot of time and does not provide complete context for the interactions that took place prior to the recording. Prior to that clip, the patron was provided a number of verbal warnings by the district administration after opting to disregard safety protocols by closely and angrily confronting several employees without a facial covering before taking a seat. While all Katy ISD patrons and parents are welcomed and encouraged to share concerns and ask questions of staff, individuals are kindly asked to do so in an appropriate manner that respects the space, and health and safety of others.”
The district website now says “mask [sic] must be worn at all times,” but that wording was added sometime over the last month according to an archival service.
Mary Ellen Cuzela, another parent who addressed the board on March 29 without wearing a mask, told The Texan that prior to the meeting Katy ISD police officers had suggested that she and others including Anderson should wear masks, but told them if they sat with members of their own households they did not have to do so.
“Bonnie was definitely singled out,” Cuzela told The Texan. “I was under the assumption that after they kicked her out, they would do a clean sweep of the room, but they never came to enforce that.”
Anderson’s son also addressed the board that evening without a mask. In his testimony, he informed the board that earlier that day in between track and band practice, he pulled his mask down because he was short of breath. He says a teacher told him to put it back on, and while he stated that he usually complies with all mask orders, he told the board that he asked the teacher “What if it hurts me?” He says the teacher replied, “Good.”
In the lawsuit filed against Katy ISD by attorney Jared Woodfill, Anderson and other parents argue that the district’s mask policy is unfair since it requires students who do not mask to move to virtual learning and prohibits their participation in extracurricular activities.
They note that there have been no documented cases in which a teacher has contracted COVID-19 from a student, and they cite studies indicating that masks have no significant impact in stopping the spread of the virus, and “absolutely no impact” in controlling transmission among school children.
They also say that the virtual option does not provide the free and “equal” education guaranteed to children under the Texas Constitution, and point to evidence of the negative impact of virtual schooling on some children’s academic and emotional well-being.
In referring to the lawsuit, her candidacy for the board of trustees, and her expulsion from the public meeting, Anderson says she is determined to move forward.
“This is just part of the whole narrative of restoring those rights for parents to make health choices for their children,” said Anderson.
“We’ve got to make the children the focus somehow.”
Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you’d like to become one of the people we’re financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.
Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.