CARVER CO., Minn. (WCCO) — A tense Eastern Carver County School Board meeting over a mask mandate Monday culminated with a physical altercation, the latest flashpoint in a bitter nationwide battle over COVID-19 policies in schools.
On Monday, parents and community members spoke out against a new mask policy implemented in the district through October in response to rising COVID-19 cases. The district said it analyzed state, county, local and building-level data on coronavirus cases to inform the decision. Infections linked to schools are on the rise across the state, health officials say.READ MORE: COVID In MN: MDH Reports 22 More Deaths As Latest Positivity Rate Drops Below 8%
Chaska resident Jonas Sjoberg said he showed up to a school board meeting Monday night as a sign of support for elected officials in difficult jobs and as a “counter-weight” to other members of the community who were angry and vocal over the mask mandate.
“We saw a lot of anger and a lot of negativity,” Sjoberg, whose daughter attends a private school, said. “So I wanted to come as a community member and say ‘Hey, thank you for what you do. I appreciate what you do and I realize that it’s [sic] tough decisions you guys have to make.'”
Captured on livestream video, a man is seen coming up to Sjoberg following his remarks, accusing him of lying to the school board.
Sjoberg said later he tried to capture a photo of the individual to identify him for future reference. A woman is seen asking him to delete the photo of her husband, before the man charges at him trying to grab Sjoberg’s phone away. WCCO-TV tried to contact the individual by phone and social media for comment and did not hear back.
“I couldn’t tell you what goes through my mind. I’m confused,” Sjoberg recalled. “When I get outside, I start to realize, oh my goodness I have my button is broken my shirt and oh I have scratches on my chest.”
In a statement, district leaders condemned the altercation. They said there will be an increased police presence at future meetings, citing safety concerns.
“The behavior and conduct on display in our boardroom this week was unacceptable. It is healthy for us to disagree and to seek out more information,” said school board chair Dr. Jeff Ross and Superintendent Lisa Sayles-Adams in a statement to parents. “It is not okay, and not acceptable, to resort to violence or accuse decision-makers of being Nazis. It will not be tolerated.”READ MORE: ‘Hopefully People Will Realize It’s Not Over’: Doctors Urge Caution for Indoor And Holiday Gatherings Amid Pandemic
The Chaska Police Department said it’s currently investigating the incident and no formal charges have been filed.
“I think that they should know that there are so many people out there that realize that they are doing such a valuable job and that the people that they see or hear from on email might not be the majority,” Sjoberg said.
At the same meeting, one woman called the masking rule “tyrannical;” another likened the policies to Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the country.
School Board Resignations On The Rise In Minnesota
The incident in Chaska reflects a national trend, as school boardrooms have become epicenters in the political battle over masks and other COVID policies.
The tensions have spurred more resignations from board members, who are elected officials often working in that capacity part time. The Minnesota School Board Association said that 68 people on school boards have stepped down since the group started tracking that information in August 2020.
That’s triple the amount of resignations in a typical year, where 12 to 20 people usually quit, a spokesman, Greg Abbott, said. Most of the school board members who have resigned this year “increasing antagonism” over pandemic learning plans.
In July, a now-former Robbinsdale school board member gave an emotional speech about her decision to leave the board, citing “incivility” and “abuse” from community members.
“I will not continue to accept that hateful and disrespectful behavior with my service in this community,” said Pam Lindberg, who served seven years on the board. “The hate is too much.”MORE NEWS: St. Paul Mayor: City Employees Must Get COVID Vaccine By End Of 2021
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