CARMEL – As the Carmel Unified School District prepares to open its last regular board meeting of the year for an open meeting on Wednesday night, a member’s refusal to wear a mask in person prompted the district to bring law enforcement into action and eventually cancel the meeting altogether.
“This is happening all over our country right now, and now it seems like it is happening right in our backyard,” said Ted Knight, Superintendent of Carmel Unified. “Our education system is the backbone of our democracy, but situations like this make me worry about our future.”
Returning from a private session to a live audience of roughly 40-50 community members, half a dozen students and a dozen employees, the board of Carmel Unified paused to ask the unmasked parent from the crowd to wear a face mask. Knight explained. The parent refused, citing a medical exemption.
While the two did not meet face to face ahead of Wednesday’s board meeting, Knight noted that he and the district have had contact with the parent before. Since face-to-face training began at Carmel Unified schools in August, a parent has repeatedly sent messages threatening to sue the county and Knight himself for “child abuse” vaccination clinics, Knight said.
Fearing that the situation would escalate given the district’s history with the parent, Knight asked the council president to take a break and sequestration in a classroom outside the Carmel High School library where the board of directors was meeting on Wednesday. Knight quickly contacted the county attorney and local law enforcement, who arrived only 90 minutes after the board went into hiatus.
During this period, the board remained isolated in a separate room while the public waited, unaware of the situation. According to him, Knight refrained from notifying the crowd, again fearing an unstable reaction from the exposed parent if news of the approach of law enforcement agencies became known.
However, tensions were only contained for a limited period of time as the unmasked parent, accompanied by a group of six to seven community members with varying levels of facial disguise, became anxious. The group attempted to enter the boardroom classroom 55 minutes after the break, showing signs of increased hostility, Knight continued.
“They literally rushed into the classroom and started shouting profanity in our direction,” he said. “Our staff had to keep the door closed while (the group) tried to open it.”
Knight said the excited group of parents then returned to the Carmel High School library to speak with other members of the live audience and explain why the meeting was stopped.
Soon, three Monterey County sheriffs arrived at the scene. John Thornburgh, a sheriff’s spokesman, said the situation was reported to be relatively calm by the time law enforcement arrived. Together, the MPs and Knight sought a compromise, asking the unmasked parent to voice their public comments from the library doorway or wear a face mask, but she again refused, Thornburgh continued.
No arrests were made or no one was forcibly evicted from the Carmel High School campus, but the county and law enforcement eventually decided that it was not possible to hold a meeting.
With the county’s unfinished business still looming and state law required to hold regular board meetings every month, Carmel Unified will be doing outdoor makeup at Carmel Valley High School, 27335 Schulte Rd. At 2:00 pm on Friday, someone from the sheriff’s office will be in attendance to make sure everything is in order, Thornburgh said. Knight added that he plans to bring law enforcement officials to Carmel Unified’s board meetings for the foreseeable future.
While pressing issues were addressed, the events of Wednesday night left Knight uneasy about the impression it made on the community and how safety and comfort could be maintained in the future.
“My main concern is psychological safety,” he said. “I never felt like someone could get hurt physically, but we are models. Children watch how we behave and act. I am worried that students see this and think it is appropriate to act in society, and I am worried about trauma. The school is supposed to be a safe place for students, but I can’t imagine how they felt returning to campus after hearing about what happened (Wednesday) night. “
For now, Knight hopes to lead by example himself.
“They won’t keep me from doing the right thing,” he said. “It won’t stop me from doing work that needs to be done for staff and students. Hooligans don’t scare me. “