A Blaine County school board special meeting to vote on mask mandates lasted just minutes on Tuesday as a group of maskless protestors spurred Chairman Keith Roark to end the session before it could begin in earnest.
The board had called the special meeting to vote on a COVID-19 safety plan prior to the first day of school on Monday, Aug. 23. The vote was supposed to follow a further discussion of the district's proposed mask requirements, which would see all students and teachers wear masks in school buildings unless Blaine County reached the state's lowest classification of coronavirus risk.
On Tuesday, it didn't get that far. A day beforehand, the Bellevue-based conservative activist group Central Idaho For Liberty sent an email to its mailing list planning to protest the school board meeting. Leslie Manookian, a vocal critic of vaccines who recently brought suit against the city of Hailey over its mask mandate, sent a similar email to her contacts later in the day.
"If we want to stop this, we need as many people as possible, whether you have a student in school now or not, to show up in protest," both emails read.
In all, between 15 and 20 people arrived at the Minnie Moore Room of the Community Campus unmasked. The board had required masks for attendees and capped in-person attendance at 40 to guard against COVID-19. On Tuesday, all five board members wore them at the request of Roark, Carey Trustee Amber Larna told the Express after the meeting. A week prior, Larna, who is opposed to mask requirements for students, took her mask off at the board table, which trustees are allowed to do according to a notice that went out with the meeting agenda. The decision to wear a mask tonight "wasn't a political statement," Larna said.
At 6 p.m., the meeting's scheduled start, Roark spoke from the board table to a man standing in the crowd.
"You're out of order, and you better stay in order," Roark said, calling a school resource officer over to the man.
Then, he addressed the full audience.
"So if you do not want to put on a mask, and you don't put on a mask, we're going to adjourn the meeting," he said. "We've received 159 comments. We've responded to almost all of them. We respect your rights and your opinions, but you have to obey the law just as we do."
"There is no law," multiple people said back in a rough chorus.
Roark then hammered his gavel and adjourned the meeting at 6:02 p.m. Chatter continued, but the trustees and school administrators packed up to leave.
As of 6:45 p.m., the Express was not aware of plans to reschedule the vote.
Later on Tuesday, Roark told the Express that the board planned to reschedule, but did not say a specific time.
"It is extremely regrettable that there were those in the audience tonight who felt it is their right to ignore reasonable rules for conduct in a public meeting-- but I suppose this is a new fact of life in these troubled times," he said in an email. "In any event, the board of trustees, whatever their individual views of masking, will conduct their meetings and reach their decisions uninfluenced by the thuggish, anti-American behavior of a few."
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