BESE announces it won’t reschedule school mask-mandate meeting after unruly crowd of Aug. 18
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - In the wake of last week’s meeting disruption by a largely unruly, unmasked and unapologetic crowd, the state’s school board announced it will not reschedule a hearing for public comment on mask mandates for students.
The Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education issued its decision in a statement distributed late Sunday night (Aug. 22). Officials cited the medically unsafe and persistently disruptive behavior exhibited by masking opponents, which prompted early adjournment of the Aug. 18 BESE meeting in Baton Rouge, as sufficient reason not to try again.
“BESE members are no strangers to meetings that last 10 or more hours on any given day, rich with opportunities for the public to voice their concerns about issues in education,” the statement said. “We welcome and expect to hear long hours of differing opinions by impassioned citizens. ... As elected officials, we understand our responsibility to listen to those who elect us. We have just as great a responsibility to follow the laws of the State of Louisiana and to fulfill our duty to make decisions to protect the safety, health, and well-being of those who elect us as well.
“When forced to make that decision (to adjourn) last week, we were left with no choice but to prioritize the safety and health of those in the room over citizens who were refusing to follow the law (or) adhere to basic rules of order – all while putting the health of others at risk. As educators and education leaders, we have to be role models for children. Just as we wouldn’t allow this behavior in schools, neither will we tolerate refusal to follow the law, intimidation, bullying tactics, and putting the health and safety of attendees at risk during our board meetings.”
The BESE statement noted that accommodations had been made for persons refusing or claiming they were unable to wear masks, but that unmasked attendees made little effort to relocate to two adjacent rooms to view live-streaming of the meeting while maintaining safe social distancing.
“The board offered numerous opportunities for compliance with the lawful mask mandate,” it said. “It was only after more than five requests without compliance, outbursts by the crowd from protesters,” and defiant chants that the board “determined adjournment was necessary to ensure the safety, health and well-being of all citizens in attendance.”
The statement said that throughout the coronavirus pandemic, BESE’s board members have needed to make “tough decisions for students and teachers.”
“We will continue to prove through our actions that we prioritize and value health, human life and respect for the laws that govern our state and country – just as we did with our vote to adjourn last week,” the statement said. “We will not put the safety, health and well-being of citizens at risk. The governor’s current executive order (requiring masking in schools and government buildings) is in effect until Sept. 1. There are no plans to call a special meeting.”
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