What happened with Josh Mandel at the Lakota school board meeting? Video and interviews detail events

‘It was a staged event meant to disrupt a public meeting,’ Lakota spokesperson says of Mandel’s comments.

A U.S. Senate candidate said he was attempting to “defend the moms and dads” of one of Ohio’s largest school districts, but the school called it a “staged event.”

Josh Mandel, the state’s former treasurer who is seeking for the third time a U.S. Senate seat, told the Lakota school board members on Monday they “are using kids as pawns in a political game” regarding its August decision to mandate students wear masks. But that statement can only be found on social media as the Lakota School Board went into recess, which stopped the recording of its meeting, soon after Mandel began his planned speech.

The meeting was recessed for about 3 minutes, and the interaction between Mandel and the board is not on the school’s recorded meeting on YouTube. But Mandel, who school officials said brought a videographer to the meeting, posted that interaction on his campaign Twitter account.

“Here in the Lakota District and throughout the state of Ohio, children should not be forced to wear masks,” Mandel said in one of two videos posted to his Twitter account.

In the videos, he asks the board, and then the audience, “Isn’t this a public meeting?” after being asked to stop talking, and advised of the board policy.

Disruptions of school board meetings across the state and country have happened as more districts have debated whether to mandate masks or make them optional as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Politicians and frustrated parents have said mandating masks in order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus ― which has again spiked into thousands of cases reported a day in Ohio ― impedes their civil rights.

The National School Boards Association said in a letter to President Joe Biden parents and community members have disrupted meetings and threatened board members. While no threats were made Monday, Mandel’s incident did disrupt the school board meeting, said Lakota spokesperson Betsy Fuller.

She said public comments are welcome from residents, or their designees, as long as they follow the board policy.

“What happened (Monday) night did not,” Fuller said. “It was a staged event meant to disrupt a public meeting.”

After a few moments questioning whether Mandel was allowed to speak at a public meeting, the former elected official continued, but soon two deputies asked him to leave at the board’s request.

Mandel was at the microphone because Lakota school board candidate Darbi Boddy was called to speak. She said she “yields” her time to Mandel, but before Mandel approached the microphone, there was a discussion on the dais if that was allowed.

“I’m sorry Mr. Mandel, but she cannot yield time to you,” said Lakota School Board President Kelley Casper, but Mandel ignored that statement. The board attempted to interrupt Mandel, who continued with his planned statements.

“Josh, I’m going to have to ask you to stop, please,” Casper continued.

Mandel did not stop talking, and after 90 seconds, Casper called for a recess. Fuller said recording stops when a recess is called.

Fuller said this apparent pre-planned incident broke two school board policies.

First, Mandel violated the school board’s policy by bringing his videographer to the meeting without contacting the superintendent ahead of time. Second, Boddy did not introduce Mandel as a “designee” in accordance with Lakota’s current policy. School officials said Boddy “yielded” her time.

Additionally, Lakota School Board’s public comment policy indicates “public participants must be residents of the district or Lakota staff, and have a legitimate interest in the action of the board.”

Mandel posted on Twitter he was “escorted out” but Fuller said that was not the case.

“Mr. Mandel was not escorted out of the meeting for speaking out against masks ― we have residents who comment on this topic frequently. He was asked to leave because of the clear disruption of a public meeting he caused,” she said.

Since Lakota’s policy shift on masks, other school districts have followed suit, at least for some of its grades, such as Mason City Schools which has 10,300 students.

According to the mask policy decided in August, Lakota students and staff are required to wear masks unless they have an approved exemption, Fuller said.

“In addition to following the guidance of health experts, this decision also helps protect our students and staff from quarantine if they are identified as a close contact per the protocols we must follow from the Butler County General Health District,” she said.

The district, however, does not require employees or students receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Districtwide, as of 3 p.m. Oct. 8, there were 67 students and eight staff members out with COVID-19. Since the school board started, 418 students and 59 staff members have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Statewide, there have been more than 1.47 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 75,500 have been hospitalized. In Butler County, there have been more than 50,200 COVID-19 cases with more than 2,100 hospitalizations.

Mandel is one of several people seeking to succeed U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, who decided to not seek reelection in 2022. Mandel is one of 11 declared candidates seeking the open U.S. Senate seat, including Middletown native and author J.D. Vance, former Ohio GOP chair Jane Timken and Cleveland car dealership owner Bernie Moreno.

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