Gov. Kevin Stitt gives his annual State of the State address on February 3, 2020.

Robby Korth / StateImpact Oklahoma

Governor Stitt replaces state education board member with Enid mask opponent

Masking opponent will take the place of mask mandate proponent on board

  • Robby Korth

Governor Kevin Stitt quietly removed and replaced State Board of Education member Kurt Bollenback of Kingfisher and replaced him with an anti-mask activist from Enid this week.

Melissa Crabtree has been an outspoken critic of masking in Enid. Bollenbach was one of three board members to vote in favor of a mask mandate in Oklahoma schools.

Stitt – who has repeatedly said he won’t implement a statewide mask mandate – has said when making political appointments to various boards he hopes people will do what he wants.

“We certainly want our appointees to think the way we do and to encourage all the things that we’re talking about,” he said in November. “So I assume they would be right in line with where my beliefs are.”

Bollenbach had recently pushed for masking mandates in schools and accreditation sanctions against Epic Charter Schools.

He also had also supported seeking a legal opinion on discrimination rules surrounding Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarships for private schools. 

Attorney General Mike Hunter ruled in an opinion Wednesday – the same day Bollenbach was removed – that rules saying private schools couldn’t discriminate against students or teachers based on their religion or sexual orientation were unlawful.

Stitt had previously removed John Harrington, chairman of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, following some of the actions he took trying to hold Epic accountable.

Stitt’s office provided the following statement about Crabtree. 

“Melissa Crabtree is a former teacher who is passionate about using her experience in the classroom to improve educational outcomes for all Oklahoma students. The governor believes she will be a great addition to the State Board of Education and appreciates Mr. Bollenbach’s service to our state,”  Charlie Hannema, Chief of Communications for Stitt said in the written statement.

A question about why Bollenbach was removed wasn’t immediately answered by the governor’s office. An attempt to reach Bollenbach was unsuccessful.

Bollenbach was appointed by Stitt in 2019 when the newly minted governor replaced four members of the board of education

State schools superintendent Joy Hofmeister provided the following statement about Bollenbach’s dismissal and Crabtree’s appointment.

“Kurt Bollenbach has been an exceptional board member whose legal acumen, breadth of experience and commitment to excellence have been of great value to the State Board of Education,” she said in the statement. “He is a man of tremendous principle and integrity. Of course, I look forward to meeting his successor on the board, Ms. Crabtree, and anticipate a good working relationship with her, but I will miss Kurt’s bold leadership.”

Crabtree will most certainly not vote in favor of a masking mandate in schools. She’s been a leader of Enid’s Freedom Fighters group, which has long strongly opposed a mask mandate.

In a recent meeting where Enid passed a mask mandate, she spoke up against the idea, saying mandating masks was a bad idea, the Enid News and Eagle reported.

“We know you are not responsible for the deaths of members of our community. … I appeal to your conscience as strong men,” Crabtree told the council, according to the Enid newspaper. “I ask you to rise to the occasion and stand up to the voices of the liberal news media and bullies in our community.”