The William S. Hart Union High School District governing board’s Wednesday night meeting came to an abrupt end after several anti-mask protesters became disruptive.
The group of at least three people approached the dais after the first informational presentation of the meeting and just before the board was slated to discuss a possible plan to formally oppose Sacramento’s various COVID-19 health policies for campuses.
The woman who was first to sit down before the desk — two people ultimately followed her before the Hart district put the meeting on pause — held signs denoting “peace” and “freedom.” While the board voted unanimously to pause the meeting and wait for the members of the public to be cleared from the board room, one of the women sitting on the ground continually chanted “no more masks.”
For a number of months, the board has reminded attendees at the beginning of each of their meetings that they have the authority, through Assembly Bill 361, to conduct teleconferencing meetings if the board complies with the requirements of the bill.
“When members of the public refuse to comply with health orders by refusing to wear a mask or wearing a mask that does not properly cover both the nose and mouth, it causes disruption to the governing board meeting and puts the health and safety of other attendees at risk,” reads the board policy. “Under Resolution No. 21/22-13, should such an event occur, the board will approve the recess of the board meeting and the reconvening of the same meeting, after a thirty (30) minute recess, via teleconferencing in a virtual format and may continue to hold board meetings in a virtual format for a period not to exceed 30 days.”
The board meeting, as of this article heading to print Wednesday night, had not yet reached the second discussion item, which involved whether the district should formally announce its support for asking the state to give local bodies, such as themselves, more autonomy in creating their health and safety protocols.
The governing board members would have also mulled over whether to draft a letter expressing their shared opposition to state legislation requiring K-12 students be vaccinated.
The potential move by the Hart district would be similar to the decision made last week by the Newhall School District governing board, in which the elementary school district trustees approved sending a set of communications to the California State Legislature arguing that the local bodies are more capable at working with their county public health agency in responding to community case rates and transmission.
The Hart board’s discussion of the agenda item during the meeting on Wednesday was preceded by dozens of students, parents and community members filing into the boardroom in order to voice their concerns on the issue.
Most, if not all, of the speakers took to the podium Wednesday night to speak on their opposition to the masking and COVID-19 safety protocols. While multiple parents said that the masks and social distancing protocols have done irrevocable harm to their children, some students came forward to say they had trouble focusing in class or were experiencing adverse health effects while wearing a face covering for an extended period of time.
As has been the case for many of the Hart district’s past year of meetings, those in the audience cheered when a speaker said something they found agreeable. Board President Joe Messina reminded those in attendance that they had to wear masks and he had to quiet audience members when they became disruptive.
The opposition from Newhall and Hart trustees is directed at Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide health policies, as well as Senate Bill 871 — legislation that would require COVID-19 vaccines and limit parents’ ability to oppose immunizations on the basis of personal beliefs.
Earlier this week, L.A. County Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said that the county would be lifting its outdoor masking requirement for both mega events and schools. However, the county remains in line with the guidelines established by state public health officials in regards to still having mandates while indoors on school campuses.
Officials have said over the past few weeks that COVID-19 transmission and case rates have continued to decline, and, on Wednesday, LADPH reported countywide hospitalizations have remained below 2,500 for the seventh consecutive day.
However, Ferrer told the L.A. County Board of Supervisors last week that the county’s indoor masking requirements would remain in place until the county reached a “moderate” transmission rate of 730 cases a day for two consecutive weeks and eight weeks after kids ages 6 months to 4 years become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
As of 10 p.m., the Hart board had not yet returned from their half-hour recess. The handful of protesters, according to district spokesman Dave Caldwell, were neither arrested nor escorted out of the meeting room and the meeting resumed soon after they departed without further incident.