It had to be the shortest live board meeting in the history of Spokane Public Schools.
Promptly at 7 p.m. Wednesday, board President Jerrall Haynes opened the meeting by asking attendees to follow Gov. Jay Inslee’s mask mandate.
Several people refused, and seconds later, Haynes hit the gavel again and led other board members and staff out the door. The meeting continued via Zoom.
The move wasn’t a surprise; the same thing happened Monday night at Central Valley and Tuesday at Nine Mile Falls, following repeated requests for attendees to wear masks.
Faced with a heavy agenda that included next year’s budget, school reopening plans and the district’s controversial equity policy, Haynes moved swiftly.
Protesters were outraged, especially as many had planned to speak during the meeting. A few were able to voice their opinions on Zoom, but most left for home or to resume protests outside the district offices.
Some accused the board of silencing their voice; most of the comments were supportive of the mask mandate and the equity policy.
The equity policy was passed unanimously later in the meeting.
“You planned this,” one woman shouted as board members left the room. “You did this on purpose,” said another.
One woman referred to board members as “scumbags,” while another led a short chant to “Vote Them Out!”
However, the board got quickly down to business while a few people resumed their protests outside.
Russell Neff, one of the organizers of the Open Spokane Schools group, said he felt the board “wasn’t interested in having a conversation.”
However, Neff said he hoped to have a conversation with Haynes “in order to move forward.”
Neff also said he was disappointed in the turnout, which totaled about 50 people.
One of the attendees, Brandi Martin, said before the meeting that she didn’t want her sixth-grade son wearing a mask.
“I think it’s wrong, and we should have a choice,” Martin said.
Another mom, Tiffany McDonald, said her 8-year-old has an asthmatic condition that worsened last spring while he was forced to wear a mask.
Like Martin, she said she was unsure whether she would send her son back to his school.
However, several people told the board that they supported the mask mandate.
Savannah Gordon, an incoming junior at North Central High School, said that “getting vaccinated is what is saving lives. … If there are no masks, there is no North Central for me.”
Another woman said she believed that “it seems like a really small sacrifice to make, so that everyone can have something like a normal education.”
Later in the meeting, Superintendent Adam Swinyard noted that earlier in the day, the state superintendent’s office filed an emergency rule defining the “process for districts who willfully fail to comply” with the requirements around masks and vaccines.
The rule, which goes into effect immediately, effectively cuts funding for those districts.
Swinyard acknowledged that “it’s certainly a difficult time, and we want to respect that there are varying viewpoints.”