Minden School Board member who refused to wear a mask is ordered reinstated to board seat

Attorney for Katherine Sinsel says she was a victim of a ‘horrible public lynching’

By: - December 28, 2023 2:12 pm

A photo illustration of justice. (Getty Images)

LINCOLN — A Minden School Board member who was removed from the board in 2021 after refusing to wear a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic has been reinstated to her position.

A district judge, in a ruling last week, agreed with arguments made by Katherine Sinsel that her fellow board members had exceeded their authority in voting to remove her from the elected board in April 2021.

Kearney County District Judge Morgan Farquhar, following a two-day trial in August, ordered that Sinsel be reinstated as a board member in January and that a replacement appointed by the board, Darcie Reed, be removed.

Eager to return

Sinsel’s attorney, J.L. Spray of Lincoln, said his client was “elated” and eager to get back to work on the board.

It was just a horrible public lynching of an elected official for no reason,” Spray said.

minden whippets
The Minden Public Schools mascot is the whippet, a swift running dog. (Screenshot from Minden School District website)

James Widdifield, the superintendent of the Minden School District, did not respond immediately Thursday to a request for comment.

The judge, in an 18-page ruling, stated that the school board had wrongly attempted to expand a state statute that allows for the removal of a board member for missing more than “two consecutive regular meetings” of the board.

The board, at its meeting in March 2021, passed a resolution requiring masks and allowing the board to consider a refusal to comply as an “unexcused absence from a (board) meeting.”

Sinsel, who had voted against the mask mandate, was denied entrance at the board’s regular April meeting when she refused to wear a mask. After refusing requests to leave because she wasn’t wearing a mask, she was arrested for trespassing and disturbing the peace — charges that were later dropped.

At a special meeting later in April, the Minden School Board voted to remove Sinsel after deeming that she had missed three consecutive, regular meetings going back to March.

‘Punitive and retaliatory’

The judge ruled the board could not retroactively decide that Sinsel had violated the three-meeting rule by refusing to wear a mask at the March meeting, where she had been present and voting.

” … The retroactive decision of the Board to deem Sinsel absent from the (March) meeting was punitive and retaliatory,” Judge Farquhar ruled.

During the trial, Sinsel testified that she didn’t want to wear a mask because of her fear it could exacerbate a heart condition by restricting her breathing. She had also contested the board’s authority to issue a mask mandate.

The judge ruled that the school board did have the authority to issue a mask mandate but went too far when it declared, retroactively, that Sinsel had been “absent” from the board’s March meeting.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.

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