MARYSVILLE — Last week, a group of mostly unmasked protesters disrupted a Marysville School Board meeting, causing directors to adjourn and police to close the building to the public.
Protesters on Aug. 18 shouted obscenities and engaged in threatening behavior toward board members and district staff, in the name of opposition to the state mandate for students and staff to wear masks in schools and for district employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“It was scary, it was very scary,” board President Vanessa Edwards said Thursday.
Going forward, all school board meetings will be held online.
“What we really want to communicate is the meeting felt very unsafe for our district leaders, our board members and for the public that attended,” interim Superintendent Chris Pearson said Wednesday. “That’s the most important thing.”
The protest was organized by Unmask Our Kids, a nationwide effort against masks in schools. The protestors also called on parents in the Snohomish School District to demonstrate the same day at Second Street and Avenue D.
Keeping kids in class
With the new school year weeks away, school board meetings across the country have become philosophical battlegrounds.
Administrators, following the guidance of public health experts, often face irate parents who demand their kids have the right to be mask-free in school.
In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee used his authority to mandate that everyone wear masks while in indoor public spaces, including schools and district offices. He’s also requiring all teachers and school staff to be vaccinated by mid-October.
Districts that don’t comply could lose critical state dollars.
Those decisions are intended to limit the spread of COVID-19 and avoid shutting down schools with large outbreaks.
“All of us recognize, to some degree, the negative impact remote learning had on kids,” Pearson said. “It is far better for them to be with us in school. If that means we need to wear masks, it’s far worth it. We don’t want to quarantine kids this year, we want to minimize that.”
Last year, when students returned to the classroom after months of virtual classes, safety measures like masks limited in-class outbreaks to an average of two or three cases, state and local data show.
“When you asked the kids, they just wanted to be back,” school board President Edwards said. “They were willing to do it so they could be in person.”
Still, some parents are going to board meetings and demanding that directors do something to avoid the mandate, which they argue infringes on their individual rights. Parents have said that masks have a negative emotional impact on their children.
‘Do your f–––––– job!’
At about 4 p.m. on Aug. 18, dozens of people gathered outside a Marysville School Board workshop to protest the governor’s orders for masks and mandatory vaccinations for staff.
District staff stopped most of the crowd from entering the public meeting because protesters had either failed to sign up to attend or refused to wear a mask while inside.
The crowd spent the next two hours waving anti-mask and anti-vaccine signs along 80th Street.
When the school board’s regular meeting started at 6 p.m., the unmasked crowd again tried to enter.
They banged on the door and windows, demanding to be let in.
CAUTION: This video contains potentially offensive language.
A few speakers who registered and wore masks gave public comment, but then people inside the meeting began yelling that the protesters, too, should be allowed in the building.
At that point, Edwards called a 10-minute recess.
“We were hoping the room would clear, we were ready to hear from our families again,” she said. “But that didn’t happen.”
During the break, someone opened the building doors and protesters flooded in.
The board then decided to adjourn the meeting and have police close the district building.
“The room was just too charged,” Edwards said. “You could feel it.”
After the board announced its decision, some of those in attendance began shouting obscenities at members and district staff.
One man brought a flag on a wooden pole to the meeting and headed toward the dais, confronting and yelling at members as they exited the room. Police stood between the angry crowd and district staff.
“Get back here and do your f–––––– job!” a man shouted.
Someone else appeared to throw something at the exit as directors and staff left the room.
“It was such a quick thing,” Edwards said. “I didn’t turn around to see what was being thrown.”
After the meeting, protesters blocked at least one administrator’s car from leaving the parking lot.
‘We should hear them’
Keira Atchley was appointed to the board in July and has two children in the district. She said the protesters’ behavior was unacceptable, but she understands that parents are frustrated.
“We’re making decisions for their children,” she said.
Atchley acknowledged that the district must follow the mask mandate, both in classes and at board meetings, but added, “Parents are upset, we should hear them. To not allow them to be heard is infuriating for them and I understand that.”
Now that the board has switched to virtual meetings, parents can submit public comment through an online form on the district’s website, by leaving a message at 360-965-0065 or by tuning into the meetings live on Zoom.
“We want them to know that we want to hear them,” Edwards said.
She added that half of the families she heard from want masks, and the other half say they should have a choice, but the district must obey the mandates.
Anyone who disagrees with the governor’s decisions should reach out to their elected legislative leaders, Superintendent Pearson said — not the district or its directors.
“We’re not decision makers in regard to mask policies,” he said.
As the Marysville district progresses toward the start of the school year, the focus is on getting kids ready for in-person learning, Pearson said, not debating mask policies.
Going forward, Atchley said, she hopes the district and parents can put an end to the division that came to a boiling point during the school board meeting.
“It’s not fair for our children,” she said.