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Chaos over mask mandate at Vista Unified school board meeting

Posted at 10:24 PM, Aug 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-13 09:04:57-04

VISTA, Calif. (KGTV) -- Frustration and chaos broke out during a Vista Unified School District school board meeting.

Vista Unified's meeting was shut down three times, as mask and teacher vaccine protesters refused to wear masks inside.

The group Let Them Breathe came to Thursday's school board meeting with the intention of just sharing their thoughts on the importance of choice, in response to Gov.Gavin Newsom's vaccine announcement Wednesday.

However, when speakers refused to wear a mask and were asked by the board president to put masks on, things turned dicey.

In video shot by ABC 10News, the meeting begins per usual. The crowd in attendance Thursday night was mostly unmasked in a large community room. At the beginning of the meeting, School Board Presdient Cipriano Vargas advised everyone, "If you do not wear your mask we cannot continue the business of the board at this point and time."

That was the first warning of the night. The meeting was eventually shut down three different times, and as the board would be let out of the room, the shouting from those in attendance would resume.

One man in the crowd yelled back at some of the Let Them Breathe protesters, "You have to be respectful, you can't yell at me in my ear."

Vargas eventually told those in attendance that they would be moving public comment to a smaller room. A second warning was given, "If members of the public are still not wearing the mask they will have to reconvene in another location."

Each speaker, roughly 20 of them, was given two minutes to speak. Some speakers shared differing opinions, yet all who entered, complied with the mask request.

"Wearing a mask will not hinder anyone," shared one speaker, "it will help get our teachers and students back to school."

Another person with Let Them Breathe shared with tears in her eyes, "Can you guys imagine 11 and a half hours in masks? Can you guys imagine 11 and a half hours in masks?"

The leader of Let Them Breathe entered the room without her mask, citing she had a medical exemption to allow her to not wear her mask. She began her speech mask-less, but was then kicked out, and a school official locked the door behind her.

Other speakers who wanted to share their thoughts, in compliance with the board's request to wear a mask, continued to do so.

The meeting went out past 11 p.m., as they had allowed for anyone who was not able to speak at the beginning of the meeting to do so after agenda items.

ABC 10News reached out to the school board members via email for comment, but they did not immediately respond.

Sharon McKeeman, the founder of Let Them Breathe, released this statement to ABC 10News:

"It feels hopeless as a parent for a school board to be able to cite guidance incorrectly and shut down a meeting over a mandate that does not exist. It feels incredibly unfair as a person who is medically unable to mask for a school board to fail to honor my medical exemption and discriminate against me. It’s heartbreaking to know our kids are going through this daily; that’s why as parents we must keep advocating for them."

She also released this statement by her legal team in response to Vargas:

Dear President Vargas,

This is to advise you that there is no state, county or city requirement for all individuals to wear masks indoors in a government building. According to CDPH Guidance, “in state and local government offices that serve the public,” masks are required only for those who are unvaccinated and recommended for all others.
The provision cited in the Board Meeting Agenda improperly referenced guidance for private businesses and is inapplicable to government buildings or public board meetings. VUSD nor the Board has implemented any policy to the contrary.
Any action to cancel a public meeting, or remove members of the public due to the application of a non-existent or inapplicable rule is a clear Brown Act violation with serious legal ramifications to this Board and VUSD.

Best regards,
Scott Davison
Legal Advisor, Let Them Breathe