As children return to classrooms while the coronavirus pandemic rages on, members of U.S. school boards endure hostility and threats over mask, testing, and vaccine policies.
A Republican running for elected office in a Pennsylvania county on Sunday provided yet another example of the vitriol and even potential danger that school board members face over Covid-19 safety measures as children across the United States return to in-person learning.
Steve Lynch, who is running for Northampton County executive, took aim at mask mandates during a Harrisburg rally, issuing a call to action directed at “strong men” and declaring, “make men great again,” tweaking a popular campaign slogan of former President Donald Trump.
“Men,” Lynch said, “I need you in the coming weeks, because when we walk into those school boards, we’re gonna have everything we need to do to go in there with those 9-0 school boards that voted to put these masks back on the children with no scientific—it’s done! Giving them the research and the data. Do you understand that? Forget going into these school boards with frigging data. You go into school boards to remove ’em. That’s what you do.”
“They don’t follow the law,” he said of school board members. “You go in and you remove ’em. I’m going in with 20 strong men. I’m gonna speak in front of the school board and I’m gonna give them an option: They can leave or they can be removed. And then after that, we’re gonna replace them with nine parents and we’re going to vote down the mask mandates that evening—that evening. This is how you get stuff done. Forget writing your legislators. Forget it. They’re not listening. You gotta do something. It’s us. It’s we the people.”
There are a lot of clips like this recently and there’s a similar logic in all the speeches: The school boards aren’t doing what the angry people want, and therefore what the school boards are doing is illegal and can be removed by mobs. https://t.co/DpFdjQbPrk
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) August 30, 2021
As The Independent reported:
Mr Lynch is the owner of Keystone Alternative Medicine and Weight Loss, which provides “testosterone and hormone replacement therapy” as well as a bevy of weight loss and anti-aging treatments.
Known for posting grainy videos of himself talking in his car and his support of Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, Mr. Lynch has recently attached himself to the GOP culture war bandwagon issue of masks in schools.
Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure, the Democrat Lynch is challenging, “asked Sheriff David Doughty to notify the Northampton Area School District, Lynch home district, about Lynch’s comments,” according to The Morning Call.
“Lynch’s thuggery is as despicable and deplorable. Law enforcement should investigate,” McClure told the Pennsylvania newspaper. “This kind of rhetoric is very dangerous. Someone can get hurt.”
Noting that “as of last week, Northampton County had the fifth-highest average daily number of new Covid cases in Pennsylvania,” Newsweek reported that “the county’s school board voted last week to make masks mandatory for students, staff, and visitors.”
The GOP candidate for Northampton County executive attended the Jan. 6 Stop the Steal Rally. He’s been interviewed by the FBI. Yesterday, he talked about bringing “20 strong men” to confront school board members about mask mandates. https://t.co/FUIRg0M8iV
— Tom Shortell (@TShortell) August 30, 2021
U.S. Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have been on the rise throughout August as schools have resumed in-person instruction, sparking fights among adults over new safety rules—from masking and vaccination requirements to testing and physical distancing—particularly for children too young for vaccines. Although trials are underway, anyone under age 12 currently is not eligible for any of the Covid-19 vaccines authorized in the United States.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance regarding masks is that “given new evidence on the B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant, CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.”
Nine Republican-controlled states have banned mask mandates in schools. As Common Dreams reported earlier Monday, the U.S. Department of Education announced civil rights probes targeting five of those states—Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah—and said it will monitor developments in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, and Texas, where court orders or other actions are blocking the bans.
The Associated Press on Sunday detailed how a growing number of school board members, often unpaid volunteers, are reconsidering their roles due to conflicts over racial issues as well as Covid-19 policies.
According to the AP:
Police have been called to intervene in places including Vail, [Arizona,] where parents protesting a mask mandate pushed their way into a board room in April, and in Mesa County, Colorado, where Doug Levinson was among school board members escorted to their cars by officers who had been unable to de-escalate a raucous August 17 meeting. “Why am I doing this?” Levinson asked himself.
Kurt Thigpen wrote in leaving the Washoe County, Nevada, school board that he considered suicide amid relentless bullying and threats led by people who didn’t live in the county, let alone have children in the schools. “I was constantly looking over my shoulder,” he wrote in July.
Susan Crenshaw resigned from the Craig County, Virginia, school board this month with more than a year left in her term after being “blindsided,” she said, by her board’s decision to defy the state’s mask mandate in a move that she said felt more driven by political than educational considerations.
“This is something that’s come into play against government overreach and tyranny and other things that have absolutely nothing to do with the education of children,” the former teacher, whose district has about 500 students, told the AP. “It’s a bigger issue than the mask. I just feel like the mask is the spark or trigger that got this dialogue started.”
ABC News on Sunday provided more snapshots exposing how “school board meetings have become emotional battlegrounds for parents and local officials” in various states including Louisiana, where Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has imposed a mask mandate for schools.
“Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s meeting earlier this month ended in chaos when a raucous crowd of angry parents packed into a hearing room and refused to wear face coverings, shouting ‘no more masks,'” ABC reported.
“One person screamed, ‘Don’t infringe on our rights!'” the outlet noted. “At the time, Louisiana had the nation’s highest rate of new Covid-19 cases per capita.”
Chip Slaven, interim executive director of the National School Boards Association, told The Guardian last week that the recent degree of community engagement with pandemic policies of the more than 13,000 U.S. school boards is unprecedented.
“Before this, a controversial school board meeting might be concern over hiring a superintendent, consolidating schools, or something related to the sports teams,” Slaven said. “Those were the kinds of things where you might have a crowd.”
Now, he explained, “school board members are under attack in a number of ways,” from confrontations online and during meetings to recall elections. According to Ballotpedia, there have been at least 61 recalls targeting 157 officials across the country so far this year, though not all of them relate to the pandemic.
In Fort Lauderdale a man in a T-shirt that read ‘Not Vaccinated’ poured lighter fluid on a tray of masks and set it on fire. After a mask mandate was approved near Pittsburgh one man performed a Nazi salute while another shouted ‘You made Dr Mengele proud’ https://t.co/7cOOFvjrVk
— Ann Mroz (@AnnMroz) August 25, 2021
Slaven noted that “there are even a couple governors making threats” directed at school boards and members. They include GOP Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas.
“After 9/11, did a governor intervene to stop a local official from taking steps to safeguard a public meeting?” he asked. “We have 600,000 people that have died as a result of this pandemic, so you need to let local officials make these decisions that will protect people.”
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