COEUR d’ALENE — To the passing motorists on Northwest Boulevard, it was just another pleasant Friday afternoon in Coeur d’Alene.
Even the protesters appeared peaceful enough as they invited drivers to “Honk For No Masks.”
Most of them obliged, unaware that only minutes earlier, about three dozen of those same moms and dads had busted into the office of Coeur d’Alene Schools.
They had frightened staff to the point of making a 911 call to the police, who had to force the protesters out into the parking lot.
That was only the encore.
An hour earlier, those parents were part of an angry mob of 200, gathered outside a downtown meeting hall ahead of a special meeting of the district board of trustees.
The rumor — never confirmed — was that the district board of trustees was planning to reverse its decision from three weeks earlier and impose a mask mandate in the face of soaring COVID-19 rates among students and staff.
Whatever the board might have been planning, it never got the chance. As police officers held them back from the front door, protesters chanted “No More Masks, No More Masks!”
Others screamed expletives and vowed that northern Idaho would never resemble “Communist California.”
From inside, staffers texted media members to leave for their own safety.
Lacking the space to hold them all and fearing for their own safety, directors canceled the meeting and left through the back door.
Frustrated at not getting their say and fearing that the board might just meet elsewhere, several dozen drove to the district offices on Northwest Boulevard and stormed into the lobby.
Locked doors kept them out of employee offices, including that of first-year Superintendent Shon Hocker.
“That’s where we went into lockdown,” said Scott Maben, director of communications for the district. “After about 3 p.m., police escorted employees to their vehicles and everyone left for the day.”
As protesters continued to cheer outside the district office, Coeur d’Alene Police Capt. David Hagar said he hadn’t heard of any violence at either site.
However, Hagar said that the invasion of the district office “is kind of scary if this sort of thing doesn’t happen in your office.”
“But we were able to get (protesters) out of the office fairly quickly,” Hagar said.
The district didn’t say when and if the board would reconsider the mask mandate. The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Oct. 4.
During a meeting on Sept. 14, the board voted 3-2 to “strongly recommend” mask-wearing in the face of rising COVID numbers.
Since then, positive cases and close contacts have soared. As of Friday, the district had reported 222 positive cases, with 459 students and staff currently “out of buildings” because of COVID.
On Thursday night, word went out that the board would revisit the issue the next day. The mere rumor that the district might consider a mask mandate was enough to attract at least an angry crowd.
Emotions were still high at mid-afternoon. Protesters were still incensed that the meeting was canceled others wanted to have their say, though few would give their names to reporters.
“I have a massive distrust of the media,” one man said.
“It’s a public event paid for by our tax dollars, and they wouldn’t let us in the meeting,” said one woman.
“We’re fighting for our kids,” said another. “I don’t want my kids masked and muzzled. And the district has no right to pass a mask mandate when no other governed in the state has ordered a mask mandate.”
Another protester, Matt Edwards of Hayden, said he had planned to tell board members about national studies showing the “harmful effects of masks — social, physical and mental.”
By 3 p.m., most the protesters had called it a day. But they hadn’t called it quits.
As she walked with a friend back to their vehicles, one mom told the other, “I’m in this for the long haul.”