Anti-mask protesters who forced an early end to a Granite school board meeting in May after they stormed the room and shouted obscenities at board members are now facing criminal charges.
Granite School District confirmed Tuesday that 11 people have been charged with disrupting a public meeting — a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. The district spokesman also said that police are still searching for a 12th person who was allegedly involved in the confrontation with individuals aggressively pushing for the district to not require face masks in schools.
“There are repercussions for these actions and the board was unable to conduct its business as a result of these disruptive criminal actions,” said Ben Horsley in a statement. “The board and district encourage civil discourse as we model appropriate behavior for our children and students.”
Court documents for each of the individuals, filed late last week, allege that they were among the group of protesters who intended to “prevent or disrupt the lawful meeting” by ignoring the rules of the proceeding, yelling over speakers and charging to the front of the room.
The individuals range in age from 34 to 60. Few of them appear to live in the district’s boundaries, with some coming from as far as American Fork in Utah County.
Horsley, too, noted that “many of the individuals were not associated with the district as patrons or residents.”
The Salt Lake Tribune is not naming the protesters at this time in part because of the level of charges. The individuals do not have serious criminal records. One pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in 2016 related to criminal mischief during a domestic violence incident. Another faced misdemeanors in 1996 after his dog attacked another person.
Many of those charged will have their first court appearances in early August.
The school board meeting that they disrupted was held on May 4 at the district’s offices in South Salt Lake. The Granite school board held its next meeting online, citing concerns over safety.
At the board’s meeting Tuesday, which was back to being held in person, some protested again. This time, they were opposing the teaching of critical race theory in schools. It is currently not being taught anywhere in Utah, though.
On May 4, about 30 to 40 protesters began chanting “No more masks,” drowning out those speaking. Several of the protesters also confronted board members sitting at the front of the room.
Video of the clash was shared widely on social media afterward. “Parents are fed up,” one woman can be heard saying on the recording posted to YouTube.
“Who’s sick of this bullsh--?” another woman shouts.
Their calls escalated as one speaker — one of three who had signed up ahead of time to speak at the public meeting — began praising the board for its efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. The protesters shouted her down.
The yelling continued as state Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, who is an educator in Granite District, tried to deliver remarks about 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 has previously said, “even coming up on to the stand and accosting board members.”
At that point, one woman shouted into a microphone: “You let a senator come up here and speak in the name of my children, who you guys are abusing. Are you serious?”
“What they’re telling you now is a lie! … This is wrong! You all know it!” a man yelled, too, gesturing at the board.
At that point, “in an effort to de-escalate,” Horsley said the board members decided to adjourn the meeting early.
He said he’s heard from several on the board that they weren’t fearful for their lives, but it was “intimidating for sure” to be approached by people in such an aggressive way. He has also said that board members and employees were escorted to their cars by police officers after the meeting ended.
Horsley has compared the protesters’ actions to the riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this year.
“They came in and took the spots on the stand and held a mock meeting for several minutes before they left the building,” he said.
Four police officers from South Salt Lake and Granite District were at the meeting as security. Horsley said in a statement Tuesday that they decided not to arrest anyone at the time to avoid aggravating the confrontation.
Several school districts in Utah faced pushback from parents over the requirement that students and faculty wear masks through the end of the academic year, which wrapped up in June. But it was a state mandate — and not something that local districts could change. It will also not be in place for this fall.
Two other protesters also opposed to masks were similarly charged for disrupting a school board meeting in Alpine District at the end of April.