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Mask mandate draws angry crowd to Vegas-area schools meeting

August 13, 2021 GMT
Protesters against a COVID-19 mandate gesture as they are escorted out of the Clark County School Board meeting at the Clark County Government Center, on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)
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Protesters against a COVID-19 mandate gesture as they are escorted out of the Clark County School Board meeting at the Clark County Government Center, on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)
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Protesters against a COVID-19 mandate gesture as they are escorted out of the Clark County School Board meeting at the Clark County Government Center, on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Public anger about classroom mask mandates in Las Vegas stopped a school board meeting multiple times, and several people were escorted out by police, including a woman who was handcuffed and later charged with a misdemeanor, officials said.

The woman was ticketed for disrupting a public meeting and was not arrested, Clark County School District police Sgt. Bryan Zink said Friday.

Zink estimated about 400 people attended the Thursday evening school trustees session that was moved from a smaller district venue to the Clark County Commission auditorium because of the expected large turnout and protests during recent public meetings.

A parade of speakers berated school board members for following a directive enacted last week by Gov. Steve Sisolak requiring K-12 students and school employees in the Las Vegas and Reno areas to wear masks on buses and inside school buildings, regardless of vaccination status. The Democratic governor modeled the move on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The school year began Monday in and around Las Vegas, the fifth-largest district in the nation, with face coverings required for more than 300,000 students and about 18,000 teachers. A district order cited CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics and Southern Nevada Health District recommendations. Distance learning options also were offered.

“You have to take the vaccine and wear a mask?” parent Jim Blockey complained Thursday to KLAS-TV. “It’s ridiculous.”

Bonnie Taylor, a frequent speaker at board meetings, read aloud the trustees’ oaths of office and waved a piece of paper that she said she was serving upon them to “cease and desist any and all unconstitutional policies and behaviors.”

People in the audience applauded.

“Always remember there are way more of us than of you,” Taylor said. “You work for us. We’re not going to back down.”

Others, like teacher Sarah Comroe, called face coverings a welcome protection against COVID-19 and dismissed the protesters as “this very loud, small group,” the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

“I have over 200 students,” Comroe said. “Every single one is happy to wear their mask.”

President Linda Cavazos paused the meeting three times and board members left the room as shouting from the audience intensified.

The contentious board meeting came about 24 hours after several hundred parents and some school district employees waved signs and protested mask and vaccination policies outside district administrative offices.

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Monica Cortez, an assistant superintendent, drew shouts Thursday when she reported that the district was promoting vaccinations for students and their families, along with correct mask use and physical distancing, the Review-Journal reported.

Melody Hendry, the mother of three children and a registered nurse, told the board on that masks create “physical and psychological harm” to children by restricting oxygen intake and raising blood carbon dioxide levels and breeding bacteria.

“This is abuse,” she said.

Later, Superintendent Jesus Jara said the district was focused on making the best decisions for students and employees, following the guidance of medical experts.