Police are looking at potential criminal charges against the most aggressive of the anti-mask protesters who forced an early end to the Granite School Board meeting on Tuesday night.
The meeting was disrupted when 30 to 40 protesters began chanting “No more masks,” drowning out the speakers. Several of the protesters confronted board members.
“At this point, they are evaluating criminal charges against some of the main aggressors,” said district spokesman Ben Horsley.
“Parents are fed up,” one woman can be heard saying on a video posted to YouTube.
“Who’s sick of this bullsh--?” another woman shouts.
In the wake of protests at other school board meetings in Salt Lake County, Granite officials had anticipated they could face anti-maskers on Tuesday, but “did not anticipate arresting anyone.” However, the district is now “evaluating appropriate legal action,” Horsley said.
Four police officers from South Salt Lake and the Granite District were at the meeting as security.
Granite School Board members forwarded requests for comment to Horsley.
Tuesday’s meeting was not a public hearing, and the Granite board’s standard procedure is to allow three people to sign up beforehand to speak on “just about any topic with very few limitations,” Horsley said. “And those slots had been filled.”
As the final speaker began praising the board for its efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, the protesters shouted her down. She turned to the protesters and said, “I taught junior high school, and you don’t scare me.”
The shouting continued as state Sen. Kathleen Riebe tried to deliver remarks aimed at teacher appreciation week.
“After her comments were over, a number of aggressive individuals came to the front and started grabbing the equipment and shouting at the board members directly,” Horsley said, “even coming up on to the stand and accosting board members.”
“You let a senator come up here and speak in the name of my children, who you guys are abusing,” one woman shouted into a microphone. “Are you serious?”
“What they’re telling you now is a lie! … This is wrong! You all know it!” a man shouted, gesturing at the board.
At that point, “in an effort to de-escalate,” Horsley said the meeting was adjourned. “We did ask them not to damage public property,” he said — and the damage appeared to be limited to board members’ name plates.
Horsley said he’s heard from several board members that they weren’t fearful for their lives, but it was “intimidating for sure” to be approached by members of the public in such an aggressive way.
He also said board members and employees were escorted to their cars by police officers after the meeting was adjourned. Protesters were allowed to stay on the property after the meeting adjourned, but were asked to leave once board members and employees had left.
One woman grabbed a microphone and announced, “If they decide to leave, we are going to be able to vote in who we want for the school board.” Protesters claimed to be operating under Robert’s Rules of Order.
“I think there appears to be some misinformation about that,” Horsley said. “We don’t even use Robert’s Rules of Order. We use Jeffersonian rules of procedure. And, obviously, you cannot self-appoint to a body that is elected by the general public.”
He compared the protesters’ actions to “the Capitol riots. They came in and took the spots on the stand and held a mock meeting for several minutes before they left the building.”
Horsley said the district is familiar with the man in the gray suit seen in the video, who he described as the “main instigator” of the protest. The man has frequently been in contact with the district’s attorney and has been given multiple opportunities to sign up for public comment.
However, Horsley said, the man has refused to do so because he “apparently felt like (the meeting) should be wide open.”
The Granite spokesman said that in his 12 years working for the district, he’s never seen anything like what happened on Tuesday night. “And we’ve closed schools in the last decade. We’ve seen angry patrons. But there is a way and a place to communicate those thoughts effectively to the board. And that is not how it should be done.”
There are 16 days of in-school instruction remaining this year in the Granite District, and the district does not plan any changes to its mask policy. It cannot — the state has mandated that mask rules remain in effect through the end of the school year.
The district has received “an overwhelming number of emails” since the protest in support of health officials and the mask mandate, Horsley said.
Although some districts in rural Utah have granted exceptions to the mask rule if a parent signs a letter vouching that their children suffer from some sort of medical condition, Granite requires a medical professional to sign off on the request as well.