Parents fill community theater to discuss Pocatello/Chubbuck school mask mandate
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POCATELLO — Around 150 parents filled the theater at the Leavitt Center for the Arts in Pocatello Wednesday evening to discuss a mask mandate passed by Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25.
Mayoral candidate David Worley moderated the meeting, which included discussions of legality, a lack of transparency by the school board and options for civil disobedience. School board trustee candidates Angela Oliver, Clayton Armstrong and Deanna Judy also spoke in opposition of the mask mandate at the event.
All three candidates said that they would move to repeal the mask mandate if elected, including Armstrong, who said it would be “the number one item on my agenda.”
Worley urged parents in attendance to elect officials that could be trusted to keep the public’s best interest in mind.
“In the long run,” he said, “we need public servants that we can trust to do the right thing, even when we’re not looking.”
Several parents spoke about their lack of trust as it pertains to current school board members. Among the concerns were those parents who said they had called the school district Tuesday, prior to the school board’s meeting, to ask whether a mask mandate would be voted on. Those parents said they were told that while mask mandates would be discussed, no vote was listed on the agenda.
“Those are the kinds of things that I say that we have got to bring to the public’s attention,” Armstrong said.
On Thursday, PCSD25 acknowledged a “potentially in violation of the Idaho Open Meeting law,” in a news release.
The board of trustees received a complaint from its legal counsel, the release reads, and recognized that members of the public “may not have realized” that mask and face-covering mandates could be included in action items for the meeting.
“The complaint alleges that the Board’s agenda, discussion and subsequent action relative to the PCSD 25 Roadmap for the 2021-2022 School year at the September 21, 2021 Regular Board Meeting was not clear or transparent to the public and could constitute an Open Meeting Violation,” the release says.
In response, the board has scheduled an open meeting for Friday, at 1 p.m. The meeting will be held in the Education Service Center Board Room, located at 3115 Pole Line Road in Pocatello. The meeting will be open to the public but will not include a public comments section.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Armstrong, a candidate for Zone 2 on the school board, said that removing all mask mandates represented the logical, common-sense decision.
“To me, it’s pretty easy to listen to that voice of reason, and logic, and common sense, and majority, and make a balanced decision,” he said.
Worley took the discussion one step further, likening the fight of those parents in attendance to the civil rights movement of the 1950s. The mayoral candidate and army veteran was focused on the immorality of the mask mandate.
“If we go back to the Bible, we know that we are created in the image of God,” he said. “It is a fundamental right to be able to show your face. Last time I checked, we went to war with countries that subjugated their woman by forcing them to hide behind a mask. This is not what we do in the United States of America.”
Some of those in attendance, however, were focused on the legal ramifications.
Holly Youngker spoke with EastIdahoNews.com prior to the meeting, explaining that her and her children have attained medical exemptions from mask mandates. But, she added, she knows now that those exemptions are unnecessary, claiming the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — HIPAA rights.
“We don’t need to prove our medical exemption to anybody,” she said. She then looked toward trustee candidate Oliver, who was approaching in her wheelchair, “You wouldn’t walk up to her and ask her why she’s in a wheelchair, why would I ask you why you don’t have a mask on.”
It should be noted that asking someone’s vaccination status or about a medical mask exception is not a HIPAA violation, according to HIPAA Journal. HIPAA only applies to HIPAA-covered entities – healthcare providers, health plans, and healthcare clearinghouses – and their business associates. Most employers are legally within their rights to ask employees to provide vaccination status, and/or to wear masks.
There are stipulations in the American Civil Rights Act and in the American Disabilities Act that require businesses to accommodate those who chose not to be vaccinated or wear masks based on strongly held religious beliefs or due to a disability.
Youngker was at the meeting to show support, but also to rally her own support for a lawsuit she intends to file.
After allowing parents in attendance to air their grievances, Worley laid out several options for what he called civil disobedience.
“You engage in civil disobedience to an unjust law, an unjust rule, an unjust mandate, to force your opponent to do one of two things,” he said. “Either expose that they are a paper tiger — all bark no bite — and they actually have no way of enforcing the policy. Or, they use force they have available and expose themselves as tyrants.”