OAK HARBOR — Future Oak Harbor School Board meetings will be held virtually after audience members disrupted two recent in-person meetings, the school district announced last week.
Several speakers railed against the governor’s indoor mask mandate for the upcoming school year. Students and staff are required to wear masks while indoors on school property to guard against the spread of COVID-19.
Multiple audience members refused to wear masks during the Aug. 30 meeting, despite being asked by Board President John Diamond several times to wear them.
Jason Uemoto, who is running for a school board seat against incumbent Erik Mann, questioned the data about masking as well as the constitutionality of the mask mandate.
“The School Board’s public statements referring to Gov. Inslee’s office on these subjects have made their (electorate) questioning their allegiances,” Uemoto said during the meeting. “Who on the board does not understand our republic works from the bottom up — not top down?”
Jessica Thompson, who is running against Diamond for a School Board position, made claims about masks that contradict information presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, university research and medical organizations.
She questioned board members’ motives.
“The science is undeniable that masks are ineffective,” Thompson said. “Your motives are obvious, disgusting and worthy of all public rebuke.”
Although most of the public comments were anti-mask, several people praised board members for their leadership and adherence to COVID-19 guidelines.
Two doctors from Pediatric Associates of Whidbey Island voiced their support for masking during the school year.
“Masking is inconvenient, slightly uncomfortable, but will not cause long-term problems,” said Dr. Michele Gasper. “Our children’s future depends on our ability to work together to keep students safe and engaged in in-person school.”
Diamond told the audience that everyone needed to wear a mask and that those who refused to put one on needed to leave the building, or the meeting would go into recess. When he saw audience members would not comply, board members recessed to a scheduled executive session. They decided to suspend the rest of the meeting and moved the rest of the agenda to the September meeting.
In addition, the board members canceled a virtual meeting that was planned for the following day because the rest of the agenda included “non-time-sensitive business items,” according to a school district statement.
It is the second board meeting that audience members have interrupted this summer. Diamond asked everyone to clear the room at the Aug. 9 meeting after audience members kept shouting over board members.
Now the board members have elected to move their meetings to a virtual format.
“This decision is about the safety of staff, students and community members who attend the meetings and also to remain in compliance with the Governor’s recent orders,” the school district’s statement said.
The public will still be able to comment during virtual meetings but they must sign up ahead of time to speak. The next school board meeting will begin at 6 p.m. on Monday online.
This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sister publication to The Herald.
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