Oak Harbor school board clears the room after audience shouts disrupt meeting

State law allows school boards to clear the room if someone is interrupting the meeting.

Oak Harbor School Board President John Diamond ordered the audience to leave Monday night’s meeting after several people began shouting over board members while they were discussing COVID-19 guidance.

Some audience members called the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “liars,” claimed state public health guidance “is not science” and said parents know what is best for their children.

Jessica Thompson, a candidate for the school board, was among the people asked to leave. She called the board’s decision “overblown.”

The audience’s comments came in response to the school district’s announcement that anyone, whether they are vaccinated against COVID-19 or not, will be required to wear masks while inside school buildings during the upcoming school year. The state is requiring all public school districts to abide by the mask mandate.

Some audience members began shouting during school board member Bob Hallahan’s comments at the end of the meeting. The exchange can be viewed in a YouTube video posted on an account called “TNTT Truth Not Trash with Tim” which appears to be owned by Island County Republican Party Chairman Timothy Hazelo. The video can be viewed here at https://bit.ly/3saTPf8.

Interim Superintendent Karst Brandsma said the school district does not keep video nor audio recordings of board meetings.

Hallahan explained that he evaluates differing opinions based on a “hierarchy of credibility,” adding that he considers professionals at the top of their career or who are elected by their peers to be the most credible.

He was interrupted by a male voice saying “liars” and a female voice shouting “Parents know best! Parents know best for their children!”

The speakers were off-camera, but their comments can be heard in the video.

Diamond then reminded the audience that the public comment portion was over and warned that the audience would be asked to leave if the disruptions continued.

Hallahan continued his comments, explaining that people “lower on the credibility scale would be somebody who is speaking off-the-cuff, like outside of their expertise,” which drew more responses from the crowd.

After audience members interrupted board member Jessica Aws, Diamond sent the meeting into a three-minute recess and asked anyone not on the board, invited by the board to speak or members of the media to leave the room for the rest of the meeting.

State law allows school boards and other governing bodies to clear the room if someone is interrupting the meeting.

“In the event that any meeting is interrupted by a group or groups of persons so as to render the orderly conduct of such meeting unfeasible and order cannot be restored by the removal of individuals who are interrupting the meeting, the members of the governing body conducting the meeting may order the meeting room cleared and continue in session or may adjourn the meeting and reconvene at another location selected by majority vote of the members,” RCW 42.30.050 states.

Oak Harbor school board policy 1400 also gives the board the final say in maintaining order and removing people who are being disruptive.

Brandsma replied on behalf of Diamond and a spokesperson for the school district when asked for a comment about Monday’s meeting and the mask mandate.

“The board recognizes and values input from students, staff, parents, and the community during the public comment portion of its meetings,” Brandsma wrote, adding that it gave the public opportunity to do so.

“However, once that portion has concluded, the Board must continue its meeting and business without disruption and disorderly conduct.”

Thompson was at the meeting and is running against Diamond for his board position in November’s election. She said she was offended by Hallahan’s comments and that the board’s decision to clear the room was “overblown.”

“I feel their reaction to adjourn the meeting and kick us out was overblown,” Thompson said. “There were just a few parents speaking out against the arrogant, offensive comment that Bob Hallahan made, me being one of them and I don’t feel that warranted them kicking us out. We were upset because Bob Hallahan implied through his diatribe about the ‘hierarchy’ of advice he considers to make a decision, that parents are at the bottom. We spoke up, advocating for parents rights and were told to leave.”

Thompson has criticized the school board before and read a letter that claimed students were being “indoctrinated” during public comment earlier this year. At least 80 people signed the letter.

In response to a question about the mask mandate, Brandsma said the school district would be following the governor’s requirements, and that the district would use the mitigation measures it used in the spring when students return in the fall. He acknowledged that some families are upset by the requirement and suggested contacting the governor’s office.