Cops: Anti-mask trio trespass at school board
FRANKLIN TWP. — Three people who allegedly refused to wear masks as a coronavirus precaution at a Southern Columbia Area School Board meeting, then refused to leave the room have been charged with criminal trespass.
But one of the women charged says she was simply attempting to exercise her constitutional rights.
Kathrine Detwiler, 45, of 137 Church St.; Elaine Barnhart, 71, of 33 Mercy Road; and Gary Krum, 70, of 1779 Scenic Road — all of the Catawissa area — tried to enter the high school on Sept. 13 for a board meeting without wearing masks as required and were asked to leave by school police Officer David Townsend, charges filed Monday state.
Townsend, along with schools Superintendent Jim Becker, advised the three they were in violation of school policy — and state requirements — by refusing to put on masks, court papers say.
The trio continued to refuse to leave even when Locust Township Police Officer Donald J. Spotts arrived about 20 minutes later, according to the charges.
The charges against them are first-degree misdemeanors. That means they could face up to five years in prison and $10,000 in fines.
But Barnhart had a different recollection of the school board meeting that night. She said she, Detwiler and Krum were in attendance to support a man who had brought an oxygen monitor and planned to address the school board about what he believed were the dangers of making students wear masks. As they entered the building maskless, they saw no signs stating face coverings were required, Barnhart said.
Questioned mandate, refused to leave
Becker said Detwiler, Barnhart and Krum entered the school library, where a board meeting was being held, without masks.
The board went into executive session. Residents in attendance were sent into the cafeteria to wait.
It was then Townsend approached the three and asked them to put on masks, charges state.
They refused, instead allegedly questioning the validity of the school’s masking policy and Gov. Tom Wolf’s mandate requiring masks be worn in schools.
Court papers say the standoff between officials and residents lasted 41 minutes before all three residents left the building.
“As a district we tried to resolve the matter peacefully,” Becker said Monday. “Once there was no complying with our masking procedures, we asked them to leave.”
Police first spoke with Krum, who asked for clarification that he was being given a “lawful order to leave.”
When police confirmed that, Krum then left the premises, according to court papers.
Papers say Detwiler and Barnhart continued to argue the legality of the governor’s mandates and school policies for 40 minutes.
Police advised the two they were not there to “debate the mandate.”
Court papers say the two continued to refuse to leave, with one of them stating, “This is like a traffic citation, no big deal.”
Court papers did not identify which woman made the statement.
Spotts then called township Police Chief Allen Breach about the situation, charges state, and the two women left as he was on the phone.
Left when asked
Again, Barnhart’s recollection of the meeting differed.
She said she, Detwiler and Krum had been asked by someone at the school board meeting to put on masks. But they had stated they believed they had the constitutional right to attend the meeting without them. When the board had gone into an executive session and they were sent to the cafeteria, she said they had “discussed” the matter with police. But no one had told them they were trespassing.
They left when the man who planned to make a presentation about oxygen levels behind masks asked if they would be willing to go so he could address the board, she said. He planned to put a mask on to do so, she said.
“And of course we did. The whole point was to show how dangerous that was…. We wanted to educate the school board,” she said. “To me this is child abuse for those kids to be wearing masks.”
‘They need to leave’
Breach said previously his department is not citing residents for not wearing masks.
The issue, he said, was refusal to leave school property when asked.
“We want to have a meeting and them to be a part of the meeting,” Becker said. “We don’t want issues. We have an online option; they can view the meeting and make comments online.”
There has not been another incident with residents since that meeting, Becker said. And officials man the door with masks for those who don’t have them, he added.
Preliminary hearings for Detwiler and Barnhart are scheduled for 1 p.m. and for Krum at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 14 before District Judge Craig Long.