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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Protesters disrupt Coeur d’Alene School District mask meeting

In the aftermath of a protest that turned rowdy and confrontational, the Coeur d’Alene School District’s elected board of trustees canceled its meeting to discuss mask mandates for students and teachers.

About three dozen of the estimated 200 protesters waving signs and yelling “No more masks!” rushed into offices of the school district, frightening staff who called 9-1-1 for police protection and help clearing the building.

Masks and vaccines have become divisive, even incendiary, issues across the Inland Northwest, especially North Idaho, where mask-wearing is rare and the COVID-19 vaccination rate sits below 50 percent.

But to the passing motorists on Northwest Boulevard during another sunny Friday afternoon in Coeur d’Alene, all appeared calm as protesters invited drivers to “Honk For No Masks.”

Here’s video from KHQ reporter Ayanna Likens.

Most obliged.

The protesters gathered outside a downtown hall ahead of a special meeting of the district’s board of trustees, yelling and telling police and school officials they wanted inside.

Here’s video by KREM photojournalist Dave Somers of the confrontation.

A rumor that spread through the city but was never confirmed surmised that school trustees were about to reverse their decision from three weeks earlier and impose a mask mandate in the face of soaring COVID-19 rates among students and staff.

Whatever action the board might have wanted to consider never happened. As police officers held protesters back from the front door, protesters chanted “No More Masks, No More Masks!”

Others screamed expletives and vowed that North Idaho would never resemble “Communist California.”

From inside, a school staffer texted members of the media present to report on the board’s meeting to leave the building for their own safety.

Lacking the space to accommodate the shouting protesters and fearing for their own safety, board members canceled the meeting and left through the back door.

Protesters said afterward they were frustrated at not getting their say and feared that the board might just convene elsewhere. So several dozen drove to the district offices on Northwest Boulevard and went into the lobby.

Locked doors kept them out of employee offices, including that of first-year Superintendent Shon Hocker.

“That’s where we went into lockdown,” said Scott Maben, director of communications for the district. “After about 3 p.m., police escorted employees to their vehicles and everyone left for the day.”

As protesters continued to chant and cheer outside the district office, Coeur d’Alene Police Capt. David Hagar said he hadn’t heard of any violence at either site.

However, Hagar said that the invasion of the district office “is kind of scary.”

“But we were able to get (protesters) out of the office fairly quickly,” Hagar said.

The district didn’t say when and if the board would reconsider the mask mandate. The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Oct. 4.

During a meeting on Sept. 14, the board voted 3-2 to “strongly recommend” mask-wearing in the face of rising COVID numbers, but not require it.

Since then, positive cases and close contacts have soared. As of Friday, the district had reported 222 positive COVID-19 cases, with a total of 459 students and staff currently “out of buildings” because of the coronavirus.

Emotions were still high after the meeting was canceled, and some protesters were still incensed that they didn’t get to share their opinions with the trustees. Few would give their names. Common concerns were distrust of the media and anger of not being allowed to attend a public meeting.

Matt Edwards, a protester from Hayden, said he had planned to tell board members about national studies showing the “harmful effects of masks – social, physical and mental.”

By 3 p.m., most of the protesters were leaving.