School board clears meeting room after multiple mask warnings

Local

VISTA, Calif. — The debate over masks in schools rages on, even weeks into the school year.

Community members showed up to the Vista Unified School Board meeting Thursday to voice their opinions, but it was an attendee’s refusal to mask up that interrupted the meeting.

“I’m going to ask once again all members of the public to please wear a mask. This is your first warning,” said board president Cipriano Vargas.

After several more warnings from Vargas to a man who was not covering his face, the meeting room was cleared, and the remaining public comment speakers were asked to enter the room one-by-one.

Masks are a requirement to attend Vista school meetings, as noted on the board’s agenda. Many who came to speak at the meeting were there for the ongoing discussion on the same requirement for students at school.

“I’m demanding that you give parents a choice whether or not they want to mask their kids in schools. You guys are not health experts,” said Amber Long.

“If someone had their hand over a child’s mouth you would say it was abuse. A mask is the same thing,” said Beth Nichols Barnum.

The California Department of Public Health requires all K-12 students to wear masks indoors. State health experts call the face coverings “one of the most effective and simplest safety mitigation layers to prevent in-school transmission of COVID-19,” and note that they’re recommended on campus by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC. Read more on the state’s education policies here.

In addition to those speaking out against the mandate, some parents attended Thursday’s meeting to say they disagreed with the “Let Them Breathe” movement.

“They came to the wrong city to push their agenda. They might feel like they’re gaining momentum, but honestly they’re not. They’re having a temper tantrum,” said Vista parent Karie Winchester.

The Let Them Breathe group was more heavily challenged in Vista this time around, with an organized counter-demonstration held before the meeting.

“I feel like they’re very loud and vocal, but most people don’t agree. I feel like it’s important to not be scared, to come out, this is democracy,” said Sarah Spinks.

“This tiny ask allows them to be in school. Just like I make them wear their shoes to go to school, we make them wear their mask to go to school. They don’t mind either, they’re just fine,” said Shiloh Strawbridge, a fellow parent at Vista Unified.

Advocates for “mask choice” rallied as well, continuing to push for the school board to reconsider mask mandates on campus.

“I think the very first step is getting these protocols back on the agenda for Vista and then once it’s on the agenda, having a discussion and trying to find a way to meet in the middle. Is there a way we can get a choice for our families and still abide by the state and the county’s guidelines,” said Vista teacher and parent Nicole Reick.

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