By The Herald Editorial Board
The conduct on display at a recent Marysville School Board meeting is disturbing and infuriating, particularly so for parents and students who are eager for a return this month to in-classroom instruction that was largely denied them for much of the last two school years during the coronavirus pandemic.
But it’s also maddening for the troubling lack of respect shown local elected officials and school district employees whose job it is to deliver a quality education to public school students while ensuring the safety of students, teachers, staff and the public.
And it should be recognized for what it is: a threat to public meetings and local democratic decision making.
Two weeks ago, as reported last week by The Herald’s Joseph Thompson, a group of protesters, organized by a nationwide group calling itself Unmask Our Kids, held a demonstration outside the Marysville School District offices, during a scheduled workshop and regular meeting of the Marysville School Board.
Prior to the board’s regular meeting, protesters demonstrated against Gov. Jay Inslee’s recent orders requiring students, teachers and staff to wear facemasks indoors and mandating vaccinations for teachers and other school employees. While members of the public were allowed into the meeting, others were barred from entering because they had not signed up in advance or had refused to wear masks as required.
Disruptions outside the meeting room, including protesters banging on windows, forced a recess of the meeting. Then, as shown in a Facebook Live recording, protesters, in reaction to a vote by board members to adjourn, begin yelling obscenities. “You f***ing cowards,” erupts one man. “Get back here and do your f***ing job,” another yells. As the shouting continues, one man, grasping a U.S. flag on a flagpole walks quickly to the dais to confront board members, followed by Marysville police officers who step between the man and board members. “Yeah, run away,” taunts a protester, as board members file out of the room. “Go lick Inslee’s boot,” says one. As board members left the room, an object is thrown in their direction.
The confrontations continued outside as a group of protesters surrounded a district official’s car, preventing the driver from leaving.
The incident has prompted district officials to close in-person meetings to the public and resume remote meetings and testimony.
Prior to the obscenities and threatening actions, the protest was merely misdirected. Marysville, as is the case for all of the state’s school districts, is not in the position to defy a state order regarding masks or the vaccine mandates. Both mandates were orders recommended by the state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, then made official by the governor. Any district failing to enforce either mandate — and so far no district has indicated it won’t comply — faces a loss of state funds.
When the meeting devolved into shouted obscenities and physical confrontation, however, it became obstruction of a legal public meeting and a violation of democratic principles, one with all-too-familiar overtones of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Simply put, the Marysville School Board was there “to do its job,” until it was shouted down, threatened and forced to adjourn to deescalate an increasingly dangerous situation.
Not that it will matter to those who continue to argue against both masks and vaccinations, but both mandates are essential to ensuring students can safely return to school campuses this month, hopefully for the entire school year. For much of the previous two school years, kids had either limited time in classrooms or were kept out all together, relegated to virtual lessons that could only provide varying levels of interaction with teachers.
Yet — prior to the widespread availability of vaccines — it was really the only option to safely continue the school day.
Since then schools have had the opportunity to make changes to ventilation and prepare other precautions for distancing and disinfection. Paired with widespread use of vaccines and masks, this is how the state and its school districts can assure the health and safety of all involved, while welcoming a return to classrooms and — it’s hoped — a school year that is closer to normal.
And it must be noted that both masks and vaccinations of staff and students are made even more essential because a significant number of students — those 11 years of age and younger — are not yet eligible for vaccination. At best, some level of authorization by the Food and Drug Administration for those students is not expected until late this year or early next year.
Regarding the objections to masks because of speculation that they lower children’s blood-oxygen levels, risk carbon dioxide poisoning and interfere with the facial cues students use in learning language, the arguments are not convincing.
Studies and findings by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the American Lung Association — the folks who put a particular importance on the act of breathing — have found either no difference or statistically insignificant differences in oxygen saturation levels for those wearing surgical-style or cloth masks.
As for carbon dioxide, those molecules — which are far smaller than the respiratory droplets the masks are meant to trap — easily pass through the masks’ material.
And as far as masks impeding a child’s learning, those are obstacles that child and teacher can manage, certainly more easily than those imposed by remote learning.
Marysville, of course, is not alone in hearing from angry protesters. On the same day as the Marysville protest, similar demonstrations were seen in Snohomish and in Kennewick, although without having a public meeting shouted into adjournment. But other meetings and the work of teachers and administrators have been interrupted — sometimes violently so — by antimask protesters. A parent in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., allegedly assaulted a student who confronted him after he attempted to enter a school building without a mask. Teachers elsewhere have had masks ripped from their faces or have otherwise been assaulted by antimask protesters.
It’s no surprise that school board members and others nationwide have resigned their posts or at least considered it.
But the incident in Marysville pertains specifically to Snohomish County residents and is serious enough to require some reflection by everyone, regardless of their positions on masks and vaccination.
What happened at the school board meeting is not acceptable and should not be condoned nor easily excused.
Those who object to the mandates can make their case to those who made those decisions, in this case the governor and the state schools superintendent. Peaceful protests and even pointed criticism are among the things for which statewide elected officials are paid to deal with; school board members for most districts are unpaid and serve voluntarily.
While most school board members expect little thanks for their public service, they shouldn’t have to endure verbal abuse and threats of violence.
At the same time, what happened should prompt the county’s other elected officials — on school boards, the county council, city councils and other public representatives — to stand with the members of the Marysville School Board and make clear to their own constituents that such disruptions — to public meetings and the testimony and participation of residents who follow the rules of basic civility — will not be tolerated.
Public meetings attended by our elected officials are the foundation for the decisions they regularly make on our behalf. If local government is going to serve us, those meetings cannot be surrendered to a mob.