At this point in facing the novel coronavirus pandemic, it sometimes feels like nothing enrages parents like mask-wearing requirements for students. Given that classrooms are generally inside, most students are too young to get vaccinated, and teachers may be immunocompromised or otherwise unable to get vaccinated themselves, it makes perfect sense that if you want your child or teenager to attend in-person school, they need to mask up. Some parents, however, are willing to go to blows over it—literally.
One recent example comes out of Chaska, Minnesota, where parents and community members attended an Eastern Carver County School Board meeting to discuss the district’s new mask mandate. The mandate is a response to rising COVID-19 cases in the area and is in effect through October. Makes sense. One father who attended the meeting, however, was charged by a fellow attendee. The dad told outlets he realized that the altercation left him with a missing shirt button and scratches.
The parent, Jonas Sjoberg, told local outlet WCCO that his 10-year-old daughter actually attends a private school, but he wanted to come to the meeting to support elected officials making these tough calls on requiring masks. He says he went to the meeting to offer a “counter-weight” to the anti-maskers who have been vocal in the area about their beliefs.
To give perspective on some of these vocal beliefs, mind you, one woman compared to the mask policies to Jim Crow laws, while another described masking as “tyrannical.” Words like “propaganda” were thrown around quite a bit, too. From the video, it appears most people in the room are not wearing masks.
Sjoberg offered remarks at the Monday night meeting. “I wanted to share with you that the community that you see in the room might not be representative of the community that we serve,” Sjoberg said from the podium, adding that, from the bottom of his heart, he wants “to express gratitude to you”—the school board—for making hard decisions in this case. He added that he’d done an informal poll on Facebook to see if folks in the community supported the recent mask mandate and that about 70% of respondents did; an imperfect, unscientific measure, of course, but he noted he didn’t intend to even bring it up at the meeting, but as he’d just sat through a series of anti-maskers’ rants, decided he should.
He later told the outlet he was inspired to appear because he wanted to let officials know they’re doing “such a valuable job” and that even though they’re getting feedback from people in one direction, that doesn’t mean it’s actually the majority of folks they’re representing. Basically: Even though anti-maskers are remarkably loud, they don’t speak for everyone.
Almost immediately upon Sjoberg sitting down (he, unlike anti-maskers, did not receive notable applause when he was done speaking), an unmasked man who was sitting in a chair wheeled himself in front of Sjoberg and accused him of lying.
According to Sjoberg, he later tried to take a picture of the man who approached him in order to identify him at a later time. From there, a woman tells him to delete the photo, saying that the man in the picture is her husband. Several people pipe up with statements like, “Did you ask to take his picture?” And “Can you please delete his picture?”
Then, as seen on video, the man in question again scoots toward Sjoberg and tries to take his phone. The man also grabs hold of his shirt collar. The men were separated when three other people intervened and pulled them apart. After they’re pulled apart, a woman sitting in the row behind the commotion says, “Delete the picture and it’s all good.” A chorus of “Delete the picture” rings out as security officers deal with the unmasked man.
Mind you, generally speaking, you can take photos of anyone in a public space, with or without permission, unless they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Given that this event was live-streamed online, I’m not sure why folks would assume it was a private space.
Sjoberg told WCCO he was “confused,” and that it wasn’t until he got outside that he realized he had scratches on his chest and that he had a broken button on his shirt. According to the Chaska Police Department, no charges have been filed, but they are investigating the incident.
In speaking to The Daily Beast in an interview, Sjoberg said he felt the unmasked man was trying to intimidate him from speaking but that he ultimately feels more encouraged than ever to speak up, as he wants to speak on behalf of folks who would be too afraid to participate in that kind of scenario.
Dr. Jeff Ross, school board chair, and Superintendent Lisa Sayles-Adams issued a statement after the incident, promising to have more police presence in the future and apologizing that the incident happened, to begin with.
“It is not okay, and not acceptable, to resort to violence or accuse decision-makers of being Nazis,” the statement to parents reads in part. “It will not be tolerated.” It is great that they are taking a stand, to be sure, but more police presence is absolutely a complicated, imperfect call, given that populations historically harmed (and even killed) by police might feel unsafe attending.
You can watch the school board meeting over at Vimeo.
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