POCATELLO — Hundreds of parents, students and community members met in Pocatello on Wednesday night to voice their discontent with the mask mandate set to go into effect in Pocatello-Chubbuck schools next week.
Nearly 300 people, including at least a dozen school-age children, filed into a room inside the Leavitt Center Arts Academy for a meeting that lasted about two hours. The meeting focused on a discussion of how those opposed to a mask mandate in schools could push back against the policy.
The meeting was called in response to the Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 Board of Trustees' 3-2 on Tuesday to reinstate a mask mandate. The mandate will take effect in all of the district’s schools on Monday.
Some familiar faces to the cause led the discussion Wednesday night, with Pocatello mayoral candidate David Worley doing most of the talking to the group. District 25 Board of Trustees candidates Angie Oliver, Clayton Armstrong and Deanna Judy also came to speak out against the mandate.
“We do not co-parent with the government,” Judy said. “Those kids do not belong to them, they belong to us and that is who (the board) needs to answer to. They need to listen to us and I don’t feel like they listen to us.”
The group of anti-maskers said they felt blindsided by the school board because they thought the mask mandate issue was handled in August when the trustees voted to adopt an optional mask policy in schools.
But just over a month after its August vote, the board voted earlier this week to include a mask mandate in its roadmap for the current school year.
The meeting organizers rallied the group to send their children to schools without masks on Monday and agreed on a plan to stage a protest outside the district’s main office at 3 p.m. after school lets out on Monday.
One man in the crowd at the meeting said he would chain himself to a bus “if I have to” to make sure children don’t have to wear masks to school.
Brandi Clark, a District 25 parent who led an unsuccessful recall effort aimed at three trustees last year amid pandemic-fueled restrictions, said the group held the meeting Wednesday night to protest masks and gain support for their candidates currently vying for a seat on the board.
Clark said when the board voted last school year to end the mask mandate and then revisited the issue in August to adopt an optional mask policy, parents thought, “I’m happy, problem solved.”
“Except the problem is not solved because here we are again,” she said. “We’re in the exact same situation with somebody else controlling what happens.”
Opponents of the face coverings requirement have also complained that the school board violated the state’s open meetings law by not notifying the public in advance that masks could be up for debate and a vote at Tuesday’s meeting.
District 25 said in a news release Thursday that its legal counsel had received a complaint that alleged the board’s actions were not “clear or transparent to the public” and “could constitute” a violation of the law.
“The district acknowledges that some members of the public may not have realized that the Board of Trustees could potentially consider addressing the issue of face masks/coverings during the PCSD 25 Roadmap discussion,” the district said in the news release.
Courtney Fisher, a district spokesperson, said that in response to the accusation, the trustees will convene a special meeting at 1 p.m. Friday. The board will discuss whether its actions were, in fact, in violation of the law and whether to move forward with the mandate or void its previous vote.
A petition to influence the board to reverse District 25’s mask mandate was created by a community member after the trustees’ vote. The petition had gotten more than 1,700 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.
“If we stand together, stand proud and stand strong, we can win this,” the petition’s organizer Kaila Lepore posted on the petition website.
The board’s special meeting will be held at 1 p.m. Friday in the Education Service Center Board Room at 3115 Pole Line Rd.
The meeting is open to the public, but no public comment will be heard and capacity will be limited in order to comply with the building’s fire code.