WRIGHT TWP. – For the second time in three days, the refusal of members of the public to wear masks resulted in the cancellation and postponement of a school board meeting.
On Tuesday, it was the Pittston area that canceled a meeting after several people refused to put on masks when asked.
Thursday was Crestwood.
Board Chairman Barry Boone opened the meeting, requesting the recitation of the Oath of Allegiance and a roll call in the presence of eight members. Superintendent Robert Mehalick then said “Thanks for coming” and noted that there was “a lot of stuff on the agenda” and then said “So let’s start by making sure everyone is wearing a mask. . He repeatedly asked those without masks to put them on, with no response, so he gave the crowd another 30 seconds to comply before saying, “The meeting is adjourned.”
A member of the audience asked who he was, and Mehalick said “I’m the superintendent of schools”, when the person said he wanted to ask a few questions, Mehalick first said he could, but l attorney Jack Dean said “this is not the time for comments.”
As the crowd began to make noise, the meeting was officially adjourned, with people growing louder and louder and a man accusing the council of “descending into communism” calling it “shameful.”
In some ways, it was a repeat of the Pittston school board meeting on Tuesday, where a contingent came without masks and refused to put them on when asked. The meeting had yet to be officially called to order in the case, and the board of directors went on a recess as the security guard called on those not wearing masks to leave. They refused, with one man claiming that if the officer forced them to leave, he would be breaking the law. In Pittston, district attorney Sam Falcone returned to the room about 30 minutes later and said that since the meeting was never called to order, it was canceled.
After the Crestwood meeting, Dean noted that the agenda included a vote on an updated health plan which he said would make masking optional after December 4, when the tenure of the Public school mask must be terminated in accordance with a court order, unless new legal developments occur.
Dean also noted that the district had six police officers present, although the crowd “was not threatening”. He justified the adjournment because as soon as the mask request was made a man approached the board despite being told it was not yet time for public comment. The same thing happened in the Pittston area, and the man refused to respond to requests for his name and place of residence.
“There is case law,” Dean said. “These are public meetings that cannot be disrupted when asked to put on a mask. This is not crowd democracy. There is a protocol and unfortunately they did not want to follow it.
Dean also said he looked at the list of people who signed up to speak and that there were names of people who live in the neighborhood.
The school board will likely schedule a meeting via Zoom, perhaps as early as Monday if the required publicity can be arranged. When asked if he was concerned about the legality of holding a Zoom meeting – something that has become the norm for much of the last year thanks to COVID-19, with the return to meetings in person earlier this year – he said he consulted with the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and is confident such a meeting will be legal.
Contacted after the meeting, Dr Larry Braunstein, who spoke out against the mask’s mandate at other meetings and has a son in the district high school, said the person who tried to speak when he was contacted asked to put on masks was Matt Tarr, a Back Mountain Pastor who wanted to explain why he hadn’t put on a mask but didn’t get the chance.
Braunstein noted that most people wore masks and that there were significant issues some in the crowd wanted to ask questions about, including the temporary closure of Rice Elementary due to a high number of COVID cases. -19. He also said there had been discussions that the board was planning to do what it did – adjourn the meeting if anyone refused to put on a mask – before Thursday.
Contact Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish